I awoke alone in a hospital bed to a bright morning after a flurry of activity the night before.
My husband’s first Father’s Day.
A nurse stopped by and then a doctor both of whom introduced themselves — shift change had occurred and I had a whole new team of medical care providers.
Then David entered my room looking tired having left late the night before to catch what sleep he could find.
I was checked to determine if the medication I’d been given the night before had resulted in sufficient effacement in preparation for delivery before a Pitocin drip was started to induce labor. David sat silently at my side holding my hand after a monitor was strapped around my burgeoning waistline to measure contractions. We were then left alone to stilted and quiet communication as we watched the monitor record the Pitocin-induced contractions.
David developed a quick rapport with Mary, my daytime nurse, as she popped in and out of my room at regular intervals. Pitocin generates stronger contractions than a woman experiences when she goes into labor on her own, so I was given a medication to dull the pain which left me nauseous. I curled in upon myself and closed my eyes to get what rest I could.
Shortly after noon, David’s Mom arrived at the hospital. I don’t know how long she stayed as she sat quietly with David while I simply tried to shut out the world and ignore my nausea. Then a group of ladies from my church appeared. While appreciating their presence, not being at my best I really didn’t want to see anyone but neither David, nor I was equipped to send them away. They waited a considerable amount of time before I agreed to see them.
Finally, I progressed to the point of delivery. The doctor prepped us for unexpected things we might see after our child entered the world that we’re not covered in typical childbirth classes. In surreal fascination, I watched as the doctor and my husband settled in to watch the Olympic Track and field trials between contractions as I lay on my back, feet mounted in stirrups at the end of my bed.
And then it was time to begin pushing and with a little help from a vacuum device, the doctor announced that we had a son as Bradley Cole Boxx slid silently into the world at 4:11 in the afternoon, June 21, 1992.
Mary quickly cleaned him up, placed a stocking cap on his head, tagged his body and wrapped him in a warm blanket before handing him to me. I cautiously unwrapped Cole to count fingers and toes as I held my breath remembering the words of preparation the doctor had spoken prior to delivery. In the relative quiet of the delivery room, I looked up at David and asked him if he wanted to hold his son. And on my husband’s first ever Father’s Day, I swallowed thickly when he declined.
Following the normal post-delivery care, the doctor quietly talked David and i through the reasons why we may or may not wish to have an autopsy performed. Since the cause of death was evident (the umbilical cord wrapped around one arm and multiple times around his small throat) we found no reason to authorize a search for any other cause of death. And then my room was cleared of sympathetic medical personnel and David and I were left to spend as much time as we liked with our all too silent son.
David’s first Father’s Day began in the dark of night. He later told me as he drove home from the hospital the night before Cole was born that he realized he now shared the loss of a son with his Heavenly Father.
His first official act of fatherhood was to disassemble the crib he had assembled earlier with such anticipation and joy. This he did after that solitary drive home alone the night before, in the early hours of Father’s Day.
David never held his son. All these years later, he doesn’t recall why he made that choice. Truthfully, he may not have known himself what motivated him to make that decision. I have to wonder if it was a simple form of denial. The horror, the devastating loss, was somehow less real or less personal if he didn’t reach out and touch the flesh of his flesh. Not holding his son is the one regret of David’s initial foray into fatherhood.
But David did what had to be done and he did it independently — it’s what he needed for himself. The day after I came home from the hospital he left to plan Cole’s funeral. I had no idea he’d even made the appointment. He just went and did what needed to be done — because he was a father and it was one of the final acts of service he could perform for the child he loved.
In the intervening years, David embraced fatherhood three more times. Bethany, Gracen, and Katie completed our family. Sadly, two and a half years ago our oldest and youngest daughters were killed by a careless driver.
Father’s Day is a bittersweet day — those most memorable are the ones that were more painful than pleasant. The day is one in which David is ever aware of the absence of the children he’s lost and profoundly grateful that Gracen remains. He acknowledges his sorrow but refuses to dwell on it.
For David, Father’s Day has never about being appreciated by his wife and children. Instead, Father’s Day is all about David’s appreciation for his Dad. For the example of love demonstrated through acts of service more than words. For learning about humor, character and integrity, hard work, and protecting those you love. For David, Father’s Day is about honoring the effort and commitment of the generation before, not reveling in his own fatherhood. And David’s father has loved our family with words and hugs, and meeting needs through the work of His hands that have touched me in ways I can’t begin to describe. He is not so much my father-in-law as he is the father of my heart.
Since becoming a father himself, David has never experienced a Father’s Day untouched by sorrow. But every single Father’s Day since the day his only son came into the world has been marked not only by memories of that first unconventional holiday but also with an uncommon depth of appreciation for the man who raised him.