My cousin recently found out he is going to be a father for the first time.
When he told his family about the upcoming blessed event, three of his five siblings asked him if this was planned.
He is three weeks older than I am. I will be 47 in August.
Nonetheless, I say, congratulations, Doc! You will undoubtedly be a great dad. Better late than never, right?
I, on the other hand, will continue to live vicariously through you, because I am not going to pay for a college education when I’m 75 years old, or worse, spend my golden years visiting fast food joints and/or correctional facilities. The only children I have and plan to have are four-legged, home-schooled, and can sleep in the garage if need be.
That’s the rub. With kids, anything can happen. You might get a doctor, like my cousin, or you might get, well, me. As Robin Williams famously noted, the parents’ dream is to be able to listen to their child, at age 18, deliver her Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Conversely, the parents’ nightmare is to have to listen to their child, at age 45, say something like, “Do you want fries with that?”
I suppose you have to be proud of your kids, no matter what they do. My mom is one of those people; she’s the mom who would say something like, “My boy makes the prettiest license plates in the whole prison.”
She hasn’t had to, thank God, even though of her four kids, I’m the one who served as the family object lesson for birth control and kept my otherwise proud parents humble. But she is living proof that no one loves you like your mom.
The older I get the more I marvel at how my parents were able to raise us to be as relatively upstanding as we are. Dad was a career Army officer -- and in the lexicon of the day, his role was to go out and deliver mayhem on America’s enemies by day and deliver mayhem on his errant brats when he came home at night. There were no daycare centers, no playgrounds, no support groups. There were no movie rental kiosks, no multiplexes, no Internet. The television was black and white and received three channels through various stages of horizontal blizzard.
There were no creature comforts as we know them today; there were only Army wives, older siblings, friends and neighbors all banding together to somehow create domestic tranquility.
As Dad used to say, “If the Army wanted you to have a family, they would have issued you one.”
When my dad went to Vietnam, we moved back “home” -- Bamberg, where both sets of grandparents, several siblings and legions of cousins lived -- and continued the family dynamic there.
Mom would often send Dad these reel-to-reel tape recordings to catch him up on all the skinny back home. Since she lived in the center of the maelstrom that was our everyday life -- it was all pretty much white noise to her -- she had no idea that he was listening to these broadcasts while sitting in a hot, stinky tent somewhere in the Central Highlands, battling bamboo vipers, booby traps and the ever-present Viet Cong, all the while marveling at just how quiet and restful a hostile combat zone could be compared to, say, suppertime at our house.
And yet, our folks soldiered on, pardon the pun. They got ‘er done, as the saying goes -- just like their families did before them. And here we are: close knit, loving, somewhat successful, mostly healthy and happily un-incarcerated.
I will be curious to see how my cousin deals with this new step in his life, this marvelous new addition to his family. A doctor with the World Health Organization, he travels a lot with his job. He and his wife live overseas and they tend to vacation in places like the Alaskan tundra, just in case he doesn’t get enough of the third world at work.
So parenthood for them should be darned interesting, possibly even liberating, if that is in fact the word for which I am grappling.
Whatever happens, my bet is that they will be just fine.
After all, it runs in the family.
(Jim Tatum is from Camden and a staff writer with Summerville Communications.)