Father of the Year

06.16.11: When being a big man means doing the small things right


Nominees for Father of the Year are plentiful in every town in America. They don’t have celebrity status or a public platform. They won’t get a trophy or a headline. They’ll just go quietly about their business, raising their kids and loving their children’s mother, despite the odds, the best way they know how. They’re the guys who make every day a little more solid for the people they love. A couple of fathers in the news right now could learn a thing or two about responsible, compassionate fatherhood; about being a big man by doing the small things right.

Dale’s wife, Marie, became pregnant shortly after he completed basic training. This wasn’t exactly a surprise since they’d been “trying” for quite some time, but the timing proved to be a little challenging. They lived on base and felt lucky to spend Marie’s pregnancy together. Dale went to as many prenatal appointments as possible. He carried an ultrasound picture with his gear and took peeks at his little one so often his buddies teased him and called him “little daddy.” He and Marie chose not to find out whether they had a boy or girl. As Dale said, “Life’s full of uncertainties. I’ll take all the happy surprises I can get.”

When Dale found out he was being deployed to Iraq the same week his baby was due, he was upset, but resolute. “We knew this day was coming. We knew it would be hard. We’ll do what we have to do and do our best by it.” He asked his supervisors to push his deployment date back as long as possible so he could be there when his child was born. They gave him an extra week.

Marie’s doctor offered her an induction, but she turned it down. She wanted as natural a delivery and as quick a recovery as possible, in part because she knew she’d be on her own shortly after birth. When Marie’s due date came and went, with no contractions in sight. Dale asked for another postponement on his deployment, but was told “no deal.” He had five days left with his wife and not-yet-born-baby, then he’d be gone for “who knows how long.” He spent that time making sure his house and the nursery were in tip-top condition and that Marie had everything she needed to hold down the fort while he was gone. Then he filled up a photo album with pictures of himself and Marie so his baby would know him when he got back. “Getting ready to leave my family, my baby, just as we’re getting started is by far, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It just doesn’t make any sense in my brain, but other families need us to do this job.”

Marie finally went into labor the day before Dale was scheduled to deploy. Since it was her first birth, they were prepared for a long labor and knew Dale might have to leave before their baby was born. Marie was surprisingly calm, but Dale alternated between pacing and crying. Dale and Marie spent most of her labor at home, walking through contractions and resting together. Dale massaged Marie’s back, then filled and refilled the tub. They went to the hospital when Marie’s water broke and eight hours later, just two hours before Dale had to leave, baby girl Gwynn entered the world. Hello, goodbye, relief, and worry were all bundled up in a tiny pink blanket in a clean white hospital bed. He held his daughter, held his wife, then kissed them both goodbye.

That was eleven years ago and Dale has spent the years since then bouncing between Iraq, Afghanistan and home in the US. When he’s gone, he emails, Skypes and calls as often as possible. He sends pictures to add to the photo album, so his kids will know him when he comes home.

When Dale is home, he’s 100 percent there with his family; coaching their teams, cooking their breakfasts, doing their laundry, reading stories in their classrooms, filling and refilling their bathtubs. Dale says, “I can’t count on being here for the big things, so I try to do all the little things I can. I just hope that fills in for the stuff I miss.” Marie says the little ways he shows his family how much he cares about them means more than all the big events ever could.

Gwynn gave her daddy an early Father’s Day present last week – a DVD/slide show she made with pictures of the two of them together, starting with the day she was born – Gwynn in her blanket, Dale in his uniform, tears streaming down his face. The soundtrack was Adele’s, “Make You Feel My Love.” Then, Dale left for another six months in Afghanistan. Marie will hold down the fort and keep him fresh in his children’s minds. When he comes home again, he’ll find his place doing the little things that make him Father of the Year.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to labornurse@fitpregnancy.com and it may be answered in a future blog post.

This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.