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A Father Is Born

A Father Is Born

By Paul Weigel
M389.2 48h70.6L305.6 224.2 487 464H345L233.7 318.6 106.5 464H35.8L200.7 275.5 26.8 48H172.4L272.9 180.9 389.2 48zM364.4 421.8h39.1L151.1 88h-42L364.4 421.8z

“You need to step back and let the doctors do what they need to do,” the nurse whispered to me over my shoulder as more and more people were quietly ushered into the room, everyone focused on the task at hand. Four, five, and then six doctors, all at different stations, a team, with everyone knowing their role and responsibility, except for me. All I could do was watch.

More and more equipment rolled in behind me on that cold floor, each with lights and buzzers and more cords, rain pelting down on the dark window in Seattle’s Swedish Hospital on a February evening. I couldn’t even begin to think or pro- cess the whirlwind. But it was obvious the baby was stuck, and time was running short.

I nodded, trying to breathe, though nothing seeming to matter. There would be no cutting of the cord, no baby on her mom’s chest, no magical moment when we would hear her announce her entrance into her new world with a cry, telling us how unhappy she was. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Instead, machines beeped, incubators were plugged in, the doctor asked for different tools, and nothing seemed to make a difference as they tried to pull Natalie out and I wondered how many more seconds before we’re rushed to the OR because the clock was ticking. And then, with a twist and a turn, a teeny, little purple face with hair started to emerge, looking angrier than a grumpy old man, the umbilical cord looped around her neck

Slowly, delicately, Dr. Johansen lifted the cord up and around her head, and the baby girl slid on out. Her scowling eyes wondered what the hell was going on as she was transferred straight to another series of doctors at the warming table across the room. It was far too quiet. A million thoughts and fears and dread and overwhelming sorrow about what might have been before she ever took her first breath ran through my head. She was so . . . tiny. It seemed like all of her could fit into my two hands as she was suctioned and rubbed with bunny-patterned towels.

And then a second later, she said hello to this big new world with a scream and a cry, saying how furious she was to no longer be in the warm, safe place of her mom’s belly, but instead under a blazing bright light, with countless strangers looking directly at her tiny naked body, quickly becoming pink as she breathed new energy and life into her lungs. She had ten little fingers with the longest, sharpest razor-like nails and ten stubby toes, just like Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. It’s funny what you think of in those dire moments once they become not so dire. Somehow, at that moment, all I could imagine was the “tink-a-tink-a-tink” from the cartoons I’d watched so many years ago.

I’d been waiting nearly forty years for her to come into my life. My dreams about being a dad had been with me for as long as I could remember, but hidden so deeply away, imagining a mini-me who would follow me around, someone I could help grow and guide, someone who I could take on trips and hikes and maybe even share my different race experiences with. Shoot, I’d even made a point to wear my Ironman Arizona finisher shirt for her birth because it was important for me to introduce myself to her properly—because you never get a second chance to make a first impression. With her, Michelle and I would become a family. Not just a husband and wife, but now three, tying us together, carrying forward forever in an overwhelmingly scary and yet awesome way.

We’d known she was going to be a girl several months earlier. “The ultrasound looks like you probably will be having a girl,” the little pink xeroxed sheet of paper told us when we asked her sex.

How absolutely noncommittal, I thought to myself when we opened the envelope to read the results. But it didn’t matter. I was going to be a dad. Each morning I’d wake up early to cuddle more with her mom, putting my hand on her belly, feel- ing the baby move inside. I was in awe as I felt an arm, a foot, or an elbow push out, someone who I didn’t know who would soon be here in this crazy world. On race day in Arizona the previous November, I’d carried her ultrasound picture with me, saying, “I love you, baby girl” and looking at the grainy digital image, really having no idea what it meant to be a parent, how I would be willing to sacrifice everything and anything for her, even my own life in the years to come.

“Say hi to your daughter,” the nurse said to me, having wrapped Natalie tightly in a blanket, the little beanie saying “I’m a Swedish baby” so big for her head that it squished her ears and almost covered her eyes.

First, I moved to her mom. “I love you,” I whispered. “You did it.” Tears flowed down both our faces. This moment seemed to be preordained by both our fathers’ deaths the few years before, the baby born just hours before my own dad’s birthday, close enough to remember him, but unique enough for her to celebrate on her own. And that’s when I held her, looked down into her amazingly deep, powerful blue eyes, and fell in love for the first time, unconditional, no judgment, no analysis. Just love.

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Excerpted with permission from Iron Dad: A Cancer Survivor’s Story of Discovering Strength, Life, and Love through Fatherhood by Paul Weigel. Copyright © 2024 by Paul Weigel, published by Three Piques Blinked, Tempe, Arizona.

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