Making Babies

“Gramps,” says she, almost absently, “you and Nana made babies, right?”

“Ahh, that’s right,” says I, a tad taken aback by her question—out of the blue from an early-teen granddaughter.  “Two of them, beautiful sisters.”

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We’ve been sitting on a swing-chair in the lanai, each of us tapping on our phones, together yet apart.  I turn my attention from mine, but she is still engrossed in hers.

“Like Mum and Dad did with us, right?”

“Exactly,” I reply, wondering where this is going.  “Like they did for you and your sister.  But we did it first.”

She smiles to herself.  “Did you ever make babies with anybody else?”

I shake my head.  “No, the only one we made babies with was each other.  Your mum and aunt are the only babies we ever had.”

“Did you ever try with anybody else?”

Another shake of the head, this one to clear the surprise I’m feeling.  “Nope.  I didn’t want babies before I met Nana.”  I’m trying hard to answer the questions as asked, without offering anything extraneous.

“Was she your first girlfriend?”

“No, I went out with other girls before we met.  But she was my last girlfriend,” I say with a chuckle.

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Eyes and thumbs still on her phone, she smiles at that.  “How did you guys know you were the ones you wanted to make babies with?”

I pause, gazing skyward, taking myself more than fifty years back.  “Well, I guess it was because we sort of clicked right off the bat.  After going out with her a couple of times, I didn’t really want to date anyone else.  Lucky for me, she felt the same way.”

“Yeah, but how did you know that?”

I laugh quietly again, buying time.  “I’m not sure we really did know, not right away.  I think it was something that grew slowly, the more time we spent together.”

“And that didn’t happen with any other girlfriends?”

I shake my head yet again.  “It was different with Nana.  She had a wonderful smile, and I guess she liked mine.”  I flash her a Cheshire grin for effect.  “We both loved sports and played a lot of them, so that helped.  Plus, we knew a lot of the same friends.  After a while, we just didn’t want to be with anyone else.  And before we knew it, we figured out we were in love.”

 “But you didn’t try to make babies?”

“Okay,” I say, screwing up my courage, “you know how babies are made, right?  Sort of?”  I pray that she does.

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She nods and blushes slightly, looking at me now.

“Well, Nana and I both wanted to graduate from university, meaning we wouldn’t be able to get married for a few years.  Back in those days, most people didn’t have babies before they were married, and birth control—you know what that is, right?—wasn’t available the way it is today.”

“Lots of people have babies today without being married,” she says.

“They do,” I acknowledge.  “But think of the enormous responsibility that can be, being a mother or father of a baby.  It’s like a full-time job, so any plans you have for school or a working career could be delayed a long time.”

“You think it’s wrong to do that before you’re married?”

I pause again, thrust without warning into the role of a reluctant life-coach, caught unprepared for this conversation.  But not disposed to dodge it.

“So-o-o,” I venture, “I wouldn’t call it wrong or right in a moral sense, like a sin or anything.  Not if two people are sure they love each other.  But I do think making babies could be an unwise decision for them, depending upon the circumstances.  If two people consciously want to be parents, if they know what that will entail, and if they believe they’re equipped to raise a child, then at least they’re going into it with their eyes open.  But even then, I think there’s a problem with that logic.”

“Which is?” she says, all in now.

“In my limited experience,” I say, smiling self-deprecatingly, “making love with someone is an emotional act—as it should be probably.  But emotions can often push common-sense aside in those situations, so people might end up doing something that seems exactly right in the moment, only to realize in retrospect that it was exactly the wrong thing to have done.  And if their actions result in a baby coming along, the consequences of that one mistake can be life-altering.  Especially if they’re young.”

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She nods, brows furrowed.  “How many girlfriends did you have before Nana?”

I’m tempted to reply, jokingly, that the number was in the dozens, but her manner is quite intent now.  “Boy, that’s a long time ago,” I say.  “I think there were probably three or four girls I really liked before Nana.  We’d tell everybody we were going steady, meaning we couldn’t date anybody else.”

“But you did, though, right?”

“Yeah, eventually,” I concede.  “With all of them except Nana.  She’s the last girl I went steady with.”

“And the only one you made babies with,” she affirms.

“Yup.”

She leans close to plant a kiss on my whiskery cheek.  “Okay, Gramps.  Thanks for telling me about you and Nana.”

And off she goes, phone in hand—curiosity apparently satisfied—leaving me alone on the swing-chair in the lanai, wondering if I’d answered her questions wisely, thinking I might know the reason for them, and hoping her innate common-sense would prevail.

It’s all so long-ago for me, and so achingly right-now for her.

My Old Man

In all the sixty years I knew him before he died, I never referred to my father as the old man.  Despite being acceptable in many households, that phrase always seemed a tad disrespectful to me.  And besides, my mother forbade me.

When I spoke directly with him, I called him Dad.  When referring to him in conversation, he was my father, or my dad.  He was never my old man.

I had no problem with others who used the phrase, though.  My friends always seemed to have a loving relationship with their fathers, regardless of how they referred to them.

But there was no denying one fact; during the last decade of his life, which ended in his 92nd year, my dad definitely became an old man—a state of being I am now coming to understand.

old man

We were different, he and I, in so many ways—temperamentally, emotionally, and physically.  From my perspective, he seemed a placid soul, tending to take life as it came (although often expressing frustration when it wasn’t to his liking).

I knew he loved me, but he wasn’t one to say, “I love you,”; in fact, when I would say that to him, his usual response was, “Thank you.”  Genuinely pleased to be loved, but unsure as to how to express it to his son.

He was a bigger man than I, and stronger, although he was not particularly active in his later years, save for a daily walk.  As I grew up in the family home, I never got big enough to wear his clothes or his shoes (although, given our discrepant styles, I probably wouldn’t have, anyway).  When I inherited his cherished Omega wristwatch, I had to have three links removed from the bracelet in order to wear it.

As a child, I think I mostly took him for granted.  He was always there, he was dependable, he was predictable—a benign, constant presence in our household.  Not until after I had become a father myself, dealing with adolescent children, did I begin to think more about our relationship.  Not until then did I begin to reflect more on our similarities, rather than our differences.

By then, he was in his seventies, the decade I now inhabit.  His hair was thinning and graying, his gait was slowing; and I’d often see him lost in apparent reverie, a thousand-yard stare in his vivid blue eyes.  I used to wonder what he was thinking about, but I never asked.  I wish now I had.

He’s been gone for fourteen years almost, and I still see him in my mind’s eye—but always as an old man.  For images of his younger self, I have to look at family albums, where I am always struck by how youthful he was.  I just don’t remember him like that.

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The clearest memories I have, however, are counterfeit, in the sense that they are channeled through me.  For example, I used to notice how graceless he looked when he bent over to pick his newspaper off the floor—bowed legs canted outward, fanny pointed skyward, gnarled hand struggling to reach low enough.

“Bend your knees!” I’d silently tell him.

At my age now, of course, I realize bending one’s knees can be quite a problem if one expects to rise again.  So, I bend from the waist, too—bowed legs canted outward, fanny pointed skyward, gnarled hand struggling to reach the floor.  And alas, I see my father in my ungainly pose.

He used to sneeze—not demurely, but prodigiously.  A-roo-pha-a-!  A-roo-pha-a!  we might hear.  Or A-ree-cha-a-a!  A-ree-cha-a-a!  Sometimes A-chintz-ish!  A-chintz-ish!  There seemed no end to the variety of forms his sneezes could take.  But always, they were six times repeated before he seemed able to stop.  I think we first learned to count by marking my father’s sneezes.

“C’mon, Dad,” I used to say to myself.  “That’s not necessary.”

Now I sneeze, too—not decorously, but colossally.  They come upon me at the most inopportune times, and I’m unable to control them. A-roo-pha-a-a!  A-ree-cha-a-a!  A-chintz-ish!   And to my chagrin, I hear my dad all over again.

I had my childhood heroes as a boy, but my father wasn’t one of them.  Not then.  He was too old, too square, too conservative.  And sometimes (to my shame now), too embarrassing.  But in adulthood, I came to appreciate that his stolid, almost-Victorian demeanour was comforting, that his sly sense of humour was refreshing, that his love for his family was unending.

As my daughters grew up, they called him Grandpa, or more often Gramps.  They didn’t think he was square; they thought he was cool.  Now that I’m Gramps to my own grandchildren, basking in their attentions, I’ve come to appreciate how much my kids’ love must have meant to him.  Which makes me very happy that I appear to have, at long last, become my dad.

As another Fathers’ Day approaches, I give thanks for one of my heroes, that old man who was my father.

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