The Tuesday after Labour Day 2002, shortly after noon, I became a first time father.
Anitha’s pregnancy was such a beautiful journey. There’s something about first time pregnancy that brings out in you the joy of being human. From confirmation to bringing the baby home, and beyond, it’s such a wondrous and festive odyssey.
Each memory is a waypoint in that adventure.
The elderly woman sitting next to me in the waiting area quietly whispered something to the effect of “someone’s happy” when I hugged Anitha on confirming the news after she came out of her OBGYN appointment.
Our small circle of friends were super excited when we revealed the pregnancy, because Anitha refused to sip champagne. I truly do not remember what the champagne was for.
The week-by-week progress as evidenced in the gradually swelling belly, going from a bump to, in Anitha’s case, an abundant bulge which tricked people into thinking we were having twins.
The doctors and nurses in the delivery room laughing out loud (yes, LOL existed even back then) when I kept saying, “let’s go”, unable to bear the waiting after endless hours in labor.
The first thing I saw of the baby was streaks of thick black hair, prompting the nurse to say the baby will have a full head of hair.
The final push, after which when Aarya (I wanted a girl and we didn’t find out the gender during ultrasound) came out with a squished up face and a hairy body. Tears in my eyes.
That was just the start, sort of like that transcontinental flight you take when you go on a vacation. You reach the destination, but the journey has just begun.
Fathers are deeply envious of mothers. We won’t ever admit it, but we truly are. In a father’s mind, the pain that a mother goes through during child bearing, delivery and nursing, absolves her of everything else. She has done her part in parenthood. The rest of his life the father tries to play catch up. But in his mind he’s already lost the parenthood ‘race’ to the mother.
I am no different.
During the first few months and the formative years, our world centered around Aarya, for obvious reasons. We raised him the “right” way, trying to strike the perfect balance between fawning upon him and keeping him independent. He was also a precocious and cooperative child. We do not recall a single night where he kept us awake. It surprised us, mainly because of the nightmarish stories we heard from other new parents.
I doted upon him. We were physically inseparable the first few months. The moment he started recognizing me and smiling at my sight, my heart melted. The baby carrier with him in there was ubiquitous, whether we went out walking, out to the mall, buying groceries, or even while cooking. Yes, when making breakfast, I put him in the carrier and made my omelets, all the while talking to him, explaining how heat converts the fluid inside the egg into the nice crispy, tasty omelet.
A few months after we moved to Orlando, we took him to a local hospital for an infection. While waiting forever for the pediatrician to see him, we set Aarya down, to play around. After a while the doctor came in, and opened the door without knocking. The door lightly brushed Aarya who was playing there. It didn’t hurt him, but the doctor never apologized, never even acknowledged. We never went back to that doctor again. She hurt my son.
When he was about 2 years old, we got invited to a “No Kids” Christmas party. It was the first time we were going out without him in tow. We went to drop him off at a friend’s place so he could play with their son. When we dropped him off, I dutifully went up to him and told him that we would be gone for a couple of hours and he will be fine where he is. He looked at me quizzically, protested for a few moments, and then relented. The friends suggested that we sneak out, and were surprised we even told him what was going on.
To this day, I feel proud that we didn’t slip out unnoticed and that we told him we were leaving him alone. That was the beginning of building the parental trust. We always kept that trust.
A couple of weeks shy of his third birthday, Aarohi was born. Like all modern parents, we included Aarya in the journey. He would pray to god every time that he wanted a sister. We learned of the baby’s gender this time, and the search for names was narrowed. Aarohi was Aarohi several weeks before she was born.
When Anitha’s water broke, Aarya was at daycare, so we didn’t get a chance to tell him why a friend picked him up and he slept over that night. The next day, when picking him up on the friend’s driveway, I told him we’re going to the hospital. Excitedly jumping out of small car seat, he asked, “Aarohi came out? Yay!”
I could go on and on, digging out little memories from folders stashed away in memory, excavating instances that brought sheer joy for the past 18+ years (yes, I counted the time he was in Anitha’s tummy).
As a father, I’ve had several happy, sad, and angry conversations with him. I have held him close to me, cried when his face was burned in a fireworks accident, got mad when he disappointed me, yelled when I lost control for things that seem utterly stupid now.
I also chose a nature of work that let me work from home, so that I could watch my children grow up. I was there when they fell sick and needed to be picked up at school. I was there when they had summer holidays. I was there when they needed to be dropped at summer camp. I was there when they needed their annual physicals.
Still, I wish I was a better father than I have been. I don’t know in what way, but I just feel my contribution has been inadequate. Maybe because I’m still envious of his mother.
One hot Florida afternoon when Aarya was about 11 months old, I returned from the auto service shop, after getting the AC fixed on our 4Runner. A few minutes after I got back, Anitha sat down on the floor, holding Aarya. Then she bent forward, and set him down a couple of feet away, and let go of him. He didn’t plop down, like he normally did. Instead he walked, on his own feet.
I had tears in my eyes, watching him walk for the first time.
In a few weeks, I’ll watch him walk away from home for the first time. I’ll have tears again.
Be well, son!