Arthur always had his arms around [his daughter] Camera. When he talked about her, his face would light up like stars in the sky. He showed more feeling for his daughter than I had seen him show his whole life.
-- HARACE ASHE, UNCLE OF ARTHUR ASHE
In days of yore, fathers-to-be were banished to pace anxiously around hospital maternity wards waiting to find out if "it" was a girl or a boy, while their wives gave birth behind closed doors. The first time some new daddies laid eyes on their newly born daughters might have been through the thick glass window overlooking a nursery full of cribs and crying infants. Lynn, one of the authors, related how her father reacted to hearing the words "It's a girl!":
"Back then fathers weren't allowed in the delivery room, and since they didn't have sonograms, the tension mounted as the time came for me to show my little face. The doctor came out to tell my aunt Peggy and my daddy, who was keeping the waiting room vigil alive with stories of his escapades in the oil field. When the news came that I was a girl, my aunt said my daddy started handing out cigars and then headed down to my mom's room. She said she'd never forget seeing him click his heels, two times like Fred Astaire, as he sauntered off to see his brand-new little baby girl. Both my mom and my aunt had never seen or heard of him doing that before, or since. He was a happy guy that day."
With today's technological changes, fathers can now catch the first glimpse of their daughters on a screen, usually with the help of medical personnel who can make sense of the wavering black-and-white images. And because of this technology, fathers do not have to wait nine months to know the gender of their child-to-be.
Michael, a first-time father, told us that the first time he saw his daughter was when his wife had an ultrasound: "The doctor was an old-fashioned kind of doctor and he didn't volunteer telling us whether she was a boy or a girl. Since I couldn't tell the baby's gender from looking at the screen, I realized one of us would have to ask him. But I guess I'm old-fashioned too. I wanted to be told. So I looked at it, and thinking I knew more than I did, I decided to myself the baby was a boy.
"Part of my problem was that I prided myself on my hunches. In fact, I knew my wife was pregnant before she did! I told her I thought she was pregnant and she laughed, 'No, I'm not. I would know if I were pregnant.' But sure enough, she was, so I was pretty sure of myself when I decided we were having a boy."
Michael spent several months secure in his "hunch." When he was away on a business trip in Ireland, he visited a church and, he told us, "the perfect name just came to me. We'll name him Christian! I thought, it's got to be an omen." Right up until the moment of birth, Michael was sure he was about to have a son.
Finally, he and his wife were in the delivery room. He described the birth to us. "I was my wife's Lamaze coach. Well, actually I was more like a cheerleader, since I didn't really do anything except cheer her on, and say things like, 'Go girl. Let me know when you need some drugs!'
"In between my stints as cheerleader, I told everyone I was sure it was a boy. I told the doctor, the nurses, everyone who walked into the delivery room. And then the nurse said to me, 'It's a girl.' I look at the doctor and say, 'Yeah, right, you're lying to me.' I see the umbilical cord between her legs, and I'm thinking, 'He's not well hung.' The doctor said, 'Check that out. It's a girl,' and my jaw dropped. I was so off base that we hadn't even discussed a name if it turned out to be a girl.
"And then it hit me. We could call her Misha, which means Michael in Russian. When I was a boy, I was called Misha by my family, but I always thought it sounded like a girl's name. So, we called her Misha. I remember how it felt when I held her for the first time, and there was this nurse who said, in this sarcastic voice, 'Do you want to hold your child even though she's a girl?'
"I took her in my arms, feeling sorry for myself, and then I looked into her face. My heart melted, and I told her, 'I'm your daddy. I'll take care of you. I'll always be there for you.' And, so far, I've kept that promise."
David, another first-time father, also met his daughter-to-be via ultrasound and yet wanted to wait until the birth to find out the gender of his newborn. "It was weird to see my child for the first time through this technology," he told us. "The baby was in black and white, like seeing a plane in a storm on radar. The blip was there, but it wasn't fully recognizable, not like any baby picture I was used to seeing. Her eyes were open, like bright lights. But I had no idea if she were a she or a he.
"Even though they had the gender results, we wanted to find out the old-fashioned way. It was pretty ridiculous, really. We were at a supertechno hospital, getting all these fancy tests, and we wanted to wait to find out. My sister was really upset with us because she wanted to know what color to buy."
Not everyone chooses to be "old-fashioned" and may find out the baby's gender before the birth. Regardless of when a father finds out he's got a daughter, all of the fathers we talked to said that when they held their daughters in their arms for the first time, something amazing happened to them. Alan, who had one son before his two daughters were born, told us about preparing for their births: "We went to the Lamaze classes and, to be truthful, I was relatively worthless. If I had been down there with a catcher's mitt, I think I would have been more useful. I spent most of my time in the southern half yelling things up to my wife like, 'C'mon, you're doing great, just keep breathing, it's good for go down here.'
"When my son was born, he had the cord wrapped around his neck and he was blue. We were so frightened that he was going to die. It took three of them to work on him for about thirty seconds before he started crying. When the doctor said, 'It's a boy,' I got this proud feeling, like, 'hey, Dude, I made a boy!' But there's a different feeling when you make a son, versus when a daughter is born. A completely different feeling. Instead of 'hey, Dude,' it's like, 'ohhhhh, I get to be this protector, this provider, this warm, loving person.' With my son I thought, this is someone I can play catch with, someone who will change my tires when I get older. But when both girls were born, there was a real sense of fatherly responsibility to take care of these new lives.
Besides, with a sense of responsibility and protectiveness, dads can feel like a duck out of water at the thought of raising a daughter. Being males themselves, fathers have a more natural understanding of what a baby boy needs. But females, whether women or infants, can be a bit mysterious to men. Some fathers can feel awkward or even left out as the mother-daughter bond develops. David told us how he "made room for himself" in the life of his daughter. He said, "I got to cut the cord, which is a little like cutting through whale blubber, sort of thick and gristly. Cutting the cord was more than just a medical procedure for me. There was a mystical side of it. I stood between her and her mother and cut her from her mother. In a real sense I said to my daughter, 'Okay kid, I'm separating you. It's you and me and her. It's the three of us.'
I was so grateful that my first child was a girl that I could not stop the tears. I don't know if I would have felt as free with my tenderness and affection if I'd had a son. I felt the freedom to exalt over her. I've been with friends' children and I've found that little boys like nurturing too. Now having had her, if our next child is a little boy, I know I'll be able to flood over him like I have over a daughter. I'm so glad she was my first."
Vito echoed David's sentiment about having a baby girl. "The first six months I was saying I wanted a baby boy," he told us. "But halfway through my wife's pregnancy something came over me and I started rooting for a girl. My wife thought I was being nice, hedging against being disappointed at not having a boy. But that wasn't the truth. I loved having a girl. I told my friend, who has a twenty-two-month-old baby boy, 'I don't know what it feels like to have a son, but the feeling of having a girl is the best feeling I will probably ever have in life. Her lovingness is overwhelming to me.'"
Regardless of the sex of the newborn, the experience of sharing in the birth can be unforgettable, if not spiritual. Gary told us about how grateful he was to be a father in a day and age when he was allowed to participate rather than be sent off to some room to pace and wait. "At first we were just hanging around waiting, not knowing what to expect, because this was our first child," he recalled. "The doctor came in, checked my wife, and then told me to get scrubbed up because he could tell by the contractions that things were moving along. So I went in and scrubbed up, using a special kind of soap and scrubbers. By the time I got back, they were whisking her down the hallway to the delivery room. Everything was moving really fast. I don't know if they had waited too long, or that my wife was moving along faster than they expected, but I remember so vividly rushing right beside them, at the head of the table, hearing them tell her, 'Don't push, don't push.' While we were still in the hallway, I could see Carrie Ann's head crowning.
I was filled with a sense of amazement. For nine months we had been anticipating this moment, and yet until you're there, you can't really envision what it's like until it's happening. So when I saw this fuzzy, mucous laden-looking item appearing, I thought, 'Oh, my God, that's a real life right there!' It's a fulfillment of a very long awaited happening, the feeling that you had some part of this creation. It's a very gratifying moment."
That moment is the beginning of hundreds of thousands of special moments that form the daddy-daughter bond. As the story of each unique relationship unfolds, these experiences have the power to change forever the way dad or daughter looks at life. But the moment of birth has primal significance. Even though the mother has had nine months to bond with her daughter, the father is the one who has the first opportunity to welcome his daughter into the world the second she arrives. She may have been in her mother's womb, but she's now in her father's arms.
When a daughter first meets her daddy, a special relationship begins that will shape and mold them both from that moment forward. She makes room in her heart for the first significant man in her life -- and becomes Daddy's little girl.
Copyright © 1998 by Carmen Renee Barry and Lynn Barrington
Daddies and Daughters
Told in the voices of ordinary people, the stories in Daddies and Daughters take you through a lifetime of experiences, from a father's exultant "It's a girl" to a daughter's eloquent thoughts on the legacy of her father's love. Daughters talk about their fathers as teachers, disciplinarians, protectors, providers, and unfailingly vulnerable pushovers. Fathers reveal how their daughters brought out their protective, responsible, and loving sides and remember both the fears and the pride they felt as their little girls became independent women. By turns funny and sad, joyous and moving, Daddies and Daughters is a remarkable tribute to the extraordinary and enduring father-daughter relationship.