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WARREN: Interruptions part of being a father

- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 6, 2009

A few weeks ago, my life was interrupted.

I was all set to head to work when I got a call from my wife. She told me she wasn't feeling well and was heading to the emergency room. She said not to worry, but asked that I get there as soon as I could. I grabbed my briefcase and headed out.

By the time I got to the hospital, she was in a room, hooked up to a few machines and an IV. They already had started to run some blood tests. After an hour or so, the doctor came in and told us the test results were fine; it turned out she was having a bad reaction to medicine she was taking to settle her stomach.

This certainly was great news, and I have to admit, being a "man of action," I instinctively checked my watch to see how long before I could get back to my "regularly scheduled programming."

Just then, a nurse rushed into the room and told us we needed to move to another room quickly because they needed this one for a patient in critical condition who was en route in an ambulance. Moments after we settled in the new room, the PA system began to blare "code blue" this and "code red" that.

It all sounded like a foreign language to me, but not to my wife, who quickly grew somber. She is a family practice physician, and, decoding the announcement, she told me the incoming critically ill patient was a small child, probably a baby. We said a quiet prayer.

Soon there was a storm of activity — rushing feet and urgent commands that nearly muffled the wailing of the baby's mother. Almost as quickly, however, it was silent again — sort of an eerie hush.

I left our room to see what was happening. As I approached our old room, the curtain was pulled back just far enough for me to see him — a baby boy no more than 6 months old lying on an oversized gurney.

He looked adorable lying there. He had the cutest little face with a small tuft of blond hair tumbling gently on his forehead. He looked so peaceful — almost as if he was sleeping — but he wasn't. His day had been interrupted, too.

It had been a long time since I was that close to someone who was dead. I had never been that close to a death so quick and so young.

It was really difficult to take it all in, and I could not help but to think back to how my day started and the "interrupting" call that I received — and the one that the father of this little boy received. Like me, I'm sure he also had a day of "important" stuff planned. Now, he had to come to terms with a painful loss, an interruption of life-changing proportions.

Over the years, I have been fond of reminding dads — rather tongue in cheek — that what makes you a dad is that you have kids. Otherwise, you're just a guy. But I had not really thought about what it means to be a dad in this situation. How does one view his identity as a father in light of the death of his child, especially one so young? Does one wrestle with a sense that he is now a dad in name only? I don't know.

But I do know a few things for sure. First, six months, six weeks, six days, six minutes and six seconds before this father received that call, he had hopes and dreams of many "firsts" to share with his son that now will never happen. Second, as a father I know firsthand that despite the joy and blessing babies are, at times, they place demands on us and they often "interrupt" our sleep, our plans and our lives.

Finally, I know that this father, as he cradles his little guy in his arms for the very last time, will look into his son's face and think, "I would give just about anything for another chance to pardon his interruptions."

Roland C. Warren is the married father of two sons and president of the National Fatherhood Initiative (www.fatherhood.org). He can be reached at rwarren@fatherhood.org.