"Well, look at that! It's turning purple!"
Those were the words that changed my life. Completely.
For anyone unfamiliar with baby-making in the 21st century, the modern mother-to-be can verify her condition almost anywhere she happens to be. She simply whizzes (or whatever feminine thing it is that women do) into a vial and waits. If the stuff turns purple, your life changes. Completely.
"Nah, that isn't purple," said I, ever the optimist, upon viewing one such vial for the first time 16 years ago. "It's more of an off-violet. A semi-magenta. A burnt fuschia."
This is called denial. In truth, purple just doesn't get more purple than the purple stuff that was in that vial.
And the longer I looked at it, the purpler it got.
Meanwhile, my old life passed before my eyes: over three decades of bachelorhood, loneliness, meaningless relationships, fear of responsibility, dread of commitment.
Don't misunderstand. I'd always been crazy about children. I'd planned to have one or two. But I'm an average guy. The kind who knows exactly what he wants until it's too late to change his mind.
Now, I haven't figured out much about female synapses, but I do know they aren't soothed by male wishy-washiness toward babies particularly when the deed, or seed, is done. So I mustered a cool demeanor for the benefit of my child's mother-to-be, and somehow kept it mustered all the way to the maternity ward ... all the way to the literal "plop!" with which my first-born made his debut ... all the way to the moment he was handed to me.
Naturally, he was purple.
Following the requisite oohs and aahs and new-dad blitherings, I thought, Geez. If he's this messy now, what's his room gonna look like in thirteen years? And then every fear I'd feared for 8.5 months proceeded to chill my spine:
"Please, God, Don't turn this beautiful, perfect, fully equipped child into a teenager. Don't give him a deeply flawed sense of fashion or disconnect his brain and compel him to loiter zombie-like in malls and convenience-store parking lots. Puh-lease! I'll do anything."
"Uh-oh. What if he grows up into someone I don't like? I've met 10,000 people in my lifetime, and there've been damn few of 'em I'd want to live with for 18 years. Let alone buy their clothes, feed them, do their homework, accompany them to traffic court, and lend them money I'll never see again."
"What if he doesn't like me? The same odds apply. Either way, you can bet he'll never loan me money."
"Oh no! He could still be living with us when he's 40! I'll be 75. Or dead. Frankly, death sounds far more appealing than the prospect of telling a middle-aged bum to clean his room, get a job and find a girl."
"Say he matures into a hopelessly miserable human being, forever traumatized when I refused to buy him his own chain of toy stores. How does a parent cope with that kind of guilt?"
"Even worse, he could metamorphose into the type of village idiot commonly found behind the counters of fast-food joints. You make a 97-cent purchase, hand the kid a dollar, and his sole functioning brain cell locks up on him. He has to call the manager over to figure out your change. Oh, please, nooo!"
"Then again, better a village idiot than a 'loner.' That's someone who goes off the deep end and chops his family into Human McNuggets. When the neighbors are asked to describe him on the 6 o'clock news, they always say, 'He was a quiet kid. Always kept to himself. A loner.' If my kid ever acted like a loner, I'd never let him out of his room. I'd make him be a loner all by himself."
"Then again, better a loner than a Young Republican ..."
Odd, the longer I held this tiny, screaming, purplish kid, the more it seemed that no mistake had been made. Maybe my life was changing for the better.
Just to be safe, though, I tried to talk my son's mother into black-marketing the kid and buying a parakeet. But no go. You know women. Load 'em up with drugs, make 'em scream through 12 hellish hours of labor, then hand 'em a loud, seven-pound 14-ounce replica of Fatty Arbuckle, and they lose all concept of reality.
Local dads speak out
"I love everything about being a dad watching your kids play sports, playing football and baseball with them just everything. And being a dad has made me grow up a bunch. I'm more responsible, more cautious of getting hurt ... you just want to live for your kids."
Ty Goodman, Animal Control Officer, father of four
"The first thing that came to my mind as I held my first child for the first time was, 'Now I've really got some increased responsibilities'... The greatest satisfaction I've ever received out of anything I've ever done is when I'd think that my wife and I were good parents. I've always taken being a good father as the most serious and greatest success I could ever achieve."
Ray Schum, Payson Mayor, father of four
"To me, being a father means you have to take care of, teach, nurture and be responsible for a human being for a good part of their life. Every dad is raising the next generation, whether they realize it or not. If they don't take that responsibility themselves, who else is going to do it? All of us are raising those who are going to take care of us in the future."
Gordon Gartner, Payson Police Chief, father of five
"When I held my son for the first time, I felt he was a very precious gift that was being shared with me. I had a feelings of euphoria, of more responsibilities and of trust. Each time I held one of my newborn children, I had the same feeling. I've since learned that being a father means being a teacher, friend, learner and confidant."
Jack Babb, Payson Fire Marshal, father of five
"Immediately after assisting with the birth of my only daughter, to hold her created a magical, loving, unwavering connection that defined both of our lives. And it really did. She's off to college in just a few weeks, and it's been the most wonderful relationship anybody could ask for."
John Ross, Payson Fire Chief, father of one