As a B-52 pilot, I was stationed at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, just outside of Rapid City and the beautiful Black Hills. In the mid-1970s, Rapid City didn’t have a lot going on. Two theaters, about four decent restaurants, a new fast food place called Arby’s and a K-Mart were the highlights.
I was on alert quite a bit back then, which meant I lived on base next to my aircraft, just in case World War III might break out. So my wife Kathy was often alone with April. To give her a break when I came home, I would take April out for a daddy-daughter dates. Walks to the park when it was warm enough, sometimes rides in the car, but mostly we went to the local K-Mart. Usually, we didn’t have anything to buy--it was just a warm place to walk around in with colorful things for April to look at. I’m certain the employees knew us.
Not quite two years later, Kathy was pregnant and another baby was on the way. Today, dads are pregnant too, as in “We are pregnant.” Nonsense! I can understand saying, “We are expecting.” But only the mother will ever be pregnant in my mind. Nevertheless.
Again, I didn’t have this great desire to have a boy. I just wanted what every parent wants, a healthy child. It was June 4th, 1978 and I was in the delivery room as Kathy was about to deliver our second child after a very long labor. The doctor came when the nurses called him. Soon after, the baby was delivered and the doctor said, “It’s a boy!” Instantly--emotion welled up in me to the point of crying. I had expected the adrenaline of being a father again, what I hadn’t counted on was this emotional reaction of having a boy. It was quite surprising! I think I actually wanted a boy since I already had a girl, and I didn’t consciously know it.
Obviously, I don’t have any evidence, but I think an ancient part of my brain needed to have a boy for the reasons boys were so important in the past. Maybe for survival, lineage, society, protection, etc. Whatever it was, I didn’t know it existed.
I didn’t get to wander around K-Mart with my son because two weeks later I left the Air Force. Thank goodness Mike was not late or we would have had to pay for the delivery ourselves! He flew home to St. Louis with his mother while April, her grandmother, the dog and I drove home, pulling our meager belongings behind.
Four years later we are going to have our third child. This one a civilian birth in much more plush circumstances for Kathy than the Air Force births. Again, I did not care if it was a boy or a girl. I remembered my reaction to Mike’s birth, but since I already had a boy, I figured that dormant emotion wouldn’t happen again.
So it happens that we are blessed with another girl and we're thrilled for the third time! I remember driving home from the hospital with the other two kids singing a song we made up using the spelling of our newborn daughter’s name, R-A-C-H-E-L! What a doll she was - and is. I used to take her to the mall, just the two of us, and because of her long curly hair and pretty dresses, cute ladies and girls would always come up to talk to us (her). Rachel was our last child and we waited another twenty-six years before having grandchildren.
I’m writing this the night before Kathy, April, and Rachel are leaving for Ft. Campbell, KY to welcome our son, Mike, home as he returns from another tour in Afghanistan as an Army helicopter pilot. He’s been gone for nine months! I talked to him a few days ago and he said he didn’t want everyone to come, just me because he needed someone to pick him up. Besides, he said, he would be driving to St. Louis the next weekend. Well, we didn’t tell him, but we compromised. We’re leaving his grandmother, aunts and uncles, two brothers-in-law, his nephew and three nieces home--just the four of us will be there to greet him. We’ll try not to be emotional. He hates that (because he's emotional too!)
Parents--enjoy every simple moment of your children's lives. They grow up so fast!