Becoming a Father

Dad, what was it like to become a father?

Eagle Creek trail with Corina in 1972

Linda and I were 21 and newlyweds when Corina was born. It was exciting and fun for me to have a baby girl. Fortunately, I found employment immediately after graduation and we moved to a nicer apartment in Beaverton. We fell into stereotypical gender roles where I commuted to work in Portland each day and Linda stayed at home in the apartment with Corina. We joined the Christian Church and began to make a few friends, but we did not have a close-knit community, nor any extended family nearby. It should not have been surprising that Linda developed what looked like serious postpartum depression. She was isolated with an infant for many hours each day, without supportive friends and an outlet for her creativity. I tried to make a point of helping with baby care during evenings and weekends, but my participation in feminine tasks like cooking, cleaning, laundry and baby care weren’t as enthusiastic and helpful as they should have been.

Linda found a job as a Memorial Coliseum usherette, a job that combined entertainment with helping people. This proved to be a relief valve that lifted her depression. I enjoyed doing baby care while Linda was away and was grateful that she came home enthused about the events.

After several months in Beaverton we rented a house in West Slope and began planning how we might purchase our first house. In the rental house, Linda practiced home decorating and I did house and yard maintenance. Everything was done on a restrictive budget because of our limited income. Corina did well in the house in West Slope, playing with our cat named dee-dat, riding her trike, pushing her dolly stroller in the pretty, grassy yard, and arranging her girl toys in her bedroom.

When Corina was between two and three, I found that being a parent sometimes comes with urgent care responsibilities. Corina had become ill, and was running a fever, which we assumed was not dangerous. Linda carefully prepared a dinner and we were eating it when Corina went into involuntary jerking movements in her high chair. I had never witnessed a seizure before. I asked Linda to call emergency help at Kaiser while I carried Corina into her bedroom. It seemed that Corina was having trouble breathing, and I felt panic. I shouted to Linda, “Call the ambulance!” as I pushed my finger into Corina’s mouth and moved her tongue aside to free her airway. From the phone, Linda called, “They say, put her in a cool bath.” I drew tepid bath water and rushed back to Corina’s bedroom, carrying her to the bath. She cried and shivered as I lowered her into the water. After a few minutes I felt it was safe to move her back to the bed and dress her in pajamas. Moments later, emergency responders arrived and counseled us to drive slowly and carefully to the emergency room. She was admitted and remained at Bess Kaiser for two nights with an infection of the Roseola virus.

After the episode of fever seizures, we filled a prescription for phenobarbital to avoid a repeat. Corina was very willful as a child; she hated the taste of phenobarbital and refused to swallow a dose of it. I spanked her bottom to overcome her refusal to swallow it down one time, and felt sad and guilty for that. My father had punished me with spanking, ear thumping, and even kicking me as a child. Unfortunately, I was beginning a pattern of treating my children in the same humiliating and infuriating way that I had been treated.

When my family was still very young, all of the parents at the Christian Church were encouraged to take “Institute of Basic Youth Conflicts” presented by Bill Gothard. Along with hundreds of other young parents, we filled large auditoriums at the Memorial Coliseum, where we received lengthy lectures regarding Bill’s scripture-based insights on family life and child rearing. One of the more egregious instructions Bill taught was “discipline your child to break their will, not break their spirit.” In other words, don’t hesitate to punish your child to the point of fearful compliance, but don’t punish them to the point of ruining their mental or physical health. I regret not walking out on this series on the first day, since it encouraged corporal punishment with Corina. Fortunately, by the time Chad was old enough to be willful and rebellious, I had learned enough to believe that corporal punishment was a terrible idea.

Linda and I agreed on two children, no more than two, spaced close enough so that they could more easily bond with each other. Chad was born 4 years and three months after Corina. Linda seemed to have a much easier time with the second child, both physically and emotionally. We were striving towards a mutually-desired goal and she had more social support. It was a delight seeing four-year-old Corina “mothering” her little brother. Chad was also a contented baby, healthy and strong.

I was delighted to have a child of each gender and thought that it was the perfect combination. Despite their genders, I expected the two children to be more similar than different. But Corina liked girl toys and Chad liked boy toys, instinctively it seemed. Corina was more assertive and willful, while Chad was more gentle and cooperative. Corina was harder to guide in things like social etiquette and table manners. We didn’t worry much about thumb sucking, but I got worried about nose picking after the kids were in school. I got a jar of flavored multivitamins and told Corina that these were pills that stopped nose picking. She was willing to take the pills, but didn’t find them helpful for nose-picking. Not long afterward, a wiser parent accurately advised, “Don’t worry about nose-picking — it will go away when she becomes interested in boys.”