Let me first apologize for my absence last week and leaving you with a rerun. Maybe “apologize” is the wrong choice of words because I’m not at all sorry. I was unable to write for a very good reason, the best in fact. I actually had an article prepared but I had to leave my home abruptly before I had a chance to send it. And since I’m the last remaining cat in the Western hemisphere who doesn’t own a laptop, iPad, or smart phone – the article was left in my home computer where I would not find myself seated for another 5 days. That article, which was comprised of about 2,000 words worth of my usual cynical rants on the rapidly decaying state of the human race, will have to wait for another day. I’ve got something much more important to discuss with you this week.

I’m pretty sure that you all knew in advance what this week’s column was going to be about. Tuesday, June 12, 2012 proved to be one of the greatest days of my life and there wasn’t an outside chance that I was not going to write about it. So thank you in advance for indulging me. On that day, I became a father for the fourth time.

It started off as a normal Monday. My alarm woke me at 6:45 a.m. to start my day. I jumped out of bed already feeling as if I were behind. Nothing new there. The reason my alarm went off at all is because I’m an idiot. Throughout the school year, I have it preset to go off at that time Monday through Friday. I carelessly failed to disengage this feature when school ended for the year the previous Friday. By the time I realized that the kids were on summer break, I was already up and about. I figured I would sit down and write my “Swill” in a frantic and futile attempt to just once, meet my 9:00 a.m. Monday deadline. Much to the dismay of my handlers (editors), I treat this more as a guideline than a deadline. Fortunately, they have a rough idea what my home life is like, so they cut me some slack.

I got to writing and remembered what a hectic day I had ahead of me. We were having a first birthday party for my daughter that day and I had anywhere from 5 to 50 people coming for a cookout. That really is as close an estimate as I could get. I’m not too good at this sort of thing. My daughter’s actual first birthday was May 23rd, but this was the first and last chance we had to throw her a party. The day was somewhat open, at least by the standards of my family calendar, school was over, and the new baby wasn’t due for another 11 days.

My wife had to take the baby to the doctor for her one year check up. Nothing like starting off the day of your own birthday party with a barrage of needles. While they were gone, I had to finish cleaning the house, preparing food, and run a few errands before our party guests arrived. My first order of business was to pick up our seven year old daughter from her first sleepover party. This event in itself was a huge crossroads in the lives of both parents and child. She was just old enough to attend a slumber party, and just young enough for it to be co-ed.

Upon retrieving my daughter, I stressed to her as we made the final party preparation stops and the whole ride home how much I needed her help today and how important it was. She made it clear that she understood and would give me her full cooperation cleaning the house and getting ready. I quickly learned just how little sleep she got at this overnight party when she walked in the door and immediately laid down for a five hour nap. I was now alone getting ready for this party.

I’ll skip over the unnecessary details of the next several hours to get back to the point at hand. Guests arrived, the party went well, and no one left hungry. Several children had a blast flopping around in the swimming pool while adults swapped stories and entertained each other. Like every other first birthday party, the guest of honor ritualistically covered her entire face and head with cake and icing, and everyone seemed to have a good time. About a hundred or so pictures were taken that I won’t get a chance to print until the poor child is five or six.

I couldn’t help noticing that throughout the party my lovely wife seemed distant and uncomfortable and was disappearing a lot. I was mildly concerned, but I never dreamt that this could be the day. All of our previous children had arrived late, so 11 days early didn’t even seem like a viable option. The party was winding down and we were down to the final 4 remaining guests. My in laws, and a couple who are dear friends of ours who thankfully, not only live about ten doors down, but one of whom is a paramedic. This may or may not come in handy in the immediate future.

I began the long and arduous post party cleanup process. About this time, that drop dead gorgeous, and now, extremely inflated woman whom I call my wife passed me in the kitchen. I stopped her, gave her a kiss and asked how she was doing. In the most calm, matter of fact tone that a human can muster, she replied, “I’m pretty sure we’re ‘gonna have a baby tonight.” Every ounce of cool that I still had remaining in my body immediately departed. All of a sudden, she was calmly packing bags for us and the girls and I had turned into one of the Marx brothers. Not even a cool one. I was like….Zeppo.

By now, my in-laws were getting into their car in the driveway. This is when I realized that my wife’s calm, cool demeanor is not always an asset. She was in the driveway explaining to her Dad that we might need them to take the girls. He, not grasping the magnitude of the situation replied; “Well, if anything happens, call me and I’ll come back.” After the third futile attempt at subtlety, the conversation quickly escalated to something like this, “No! It’s go time. This is happening and we need you to take the girls NOW!” Thankfully, we had the girls in their car before they exited the driveway.

Meanwhile, my buddy the paramedic, who’s not yet added “deliver a baby” to his resume was grinning like the Cheshire cat. My wife and I did not share his enthusiasm over the prospect of delivering at home. We were leaning towards a much more suitable environment in which to welcome our child into the world. Our friends were amazing. They finished cleaning up from the party, put away all the food, rearranged all of our deck furniture, did the dishes, fed our cat and even locked the house and offered us words of encouragement as we departed. All while I desperately tried to prep my now agonizing wife for our sojourn to the Salisbury hospital and see just how much time we can shave off the normally 35-minute journey in a mini-van. Hats off, by the way, to our Honda Odyssey.

The trip to the hospital was very similar to last year’s in the sense that my wife’s contractions almost immediately went from 14 minutes apart to 3 minutes apart once we were on the road. It was very different from last year’s voyage in the sense that we were 5 days late and totally prepared then. Now we were 11 days early and COMPLETELY  unprepared.  The trip seemed like an eternity though it really only took about 22 minutes. Yup, I did that.

The entire ride my wife had both feet on the dashboard and a firm grasp on the “holy shit” handle just inside and above the passenger side window. At one point, I thought she was going to, at the very least rip the handle out of the ceiling if not peel the roof off the van like she was opening a can of cat food. We arrived at the hospital just in the nick of time and with 2 of the 4 wheels barely touching pavement.

I won’t belabor you (pun intended) with the details of the delivery or the next several hours of our lives so I can get right to the good part. At exactly 2:02 a.m. we delivered a beautiful healthy baby girl who was 8 lbs. 1 oz. and 20 ¼ inches long. She tried her best to make last call, but she was a couple minutes late. I guess that’s what happens when two bartenders spawn. Her first order of business as an air breather was to cut a long and loud fart. At that point it was confirmed that no paternity test would be necessary (not to suggest that it would have been otherwise). This was Daddy’s girl. Everything became surreal for awhile after that.

The next thing I knew, I was seated in a chair in a hospital room holding just over 8 pounds of all that is right with the world. Any shred of bitterness, hostility, sorrow, pain, exhaustion, or ill feelings I may have had previously immediately disappeared. I could have dug as deep into my own sole as humanly possible and not come up with one single, solitary reason to be unhappy. I was elated staring into the tiny little face of the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Every problem that had previously existed in my world was completely gone. As I held this delicate little flower I could not have held back the tears of joy even if I had wanted to.

There she was, just moments old, resting peacefully in the safest place in the world – her Daddy’s arms. She sees no color or ethnicity. She knows not of religion or politics. She has no hatred or contempt. She is without knowledge of or concern for economic turmoil, global crisis, fuel prices or unemployment rates. She’s unaware of social classes or sexual orientations. She doesn’t have a favorite band or football team (at least not for another 3 months when she can fit into her Joe Flacco onesie). She doesn’t have a single care or concern for all of these things that suddenly seem complete minutiae. All she knows is that she is loved dearly.

She struggles desperately to open her squinty little eyes to finally put faces with the voices she’s become so familiar with over the last 9 months hearing them muffled through a wall of amniotic fluid. The voices who have spoken to her every opportunity they could reassuring her that upon her arrival into this new world that everything would be alright and we couldn’t wait to meet her. I leaned down to this amazing, perfect creation and kissed or on her soft, puffy little cheek and recited for the first time face to face the words that I had said to her through her Mommy’s belly every night for the last 38 weeks: “I love you and I always will no matter what, and I will always be here for you. I promise you that you will never, ever, ever have to wonder where your Daddy is. You are my world.”

My wife and I did not know the sex of our baby in advance so it was a complete surprise. We didn’t find out with any of the children. It takes the fun out of it, and we’re not exactly concerned with practical issues any way. I figure I’m 42 years old, this may be the last gift I ever open that I don’t already know what it is, so I milked it for all it was worth.

If you’ve been following along, then yes, I now have three beautiful daughters. My hair is now graying in dog years. My wife would not allow me to name her Karma. That name is just implied. With this house full of gorgeous girls in which I live, I’m kind of like Hugh Heffner but with a different direction pointing on my moral compass. Thanks for playing along; this one meant a lot to me.

Until next week,

Syd Nichols

The ShoreBread staff would like to congratulate Syd on his new baby girl! May she, and the rest of the Nichols family, provide endless belly laughs, moments of joy, and lots of story ideas for your columns, Syd! Congratulations!

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