Thirty-three years.

Could it really have been that long ago? Well, since my first born celebrated her third of a century on this earth on March 16, that's a pretty stupid question on my part. But then, I’m prone to such inquiries in my middle age.

I can still remember exactly 33 years ago today. It was a Sunday and Lori Shannon's mother woke me from a sound sleep at about 6:30am -- we were spending the weekend at my parents house -- and informed me in as few words as possible, her style, that ''This is it!'' Since we still had to get up, get dressed and drive the 50-odd miles back to Macomb where we lived in a trailer while I was attending Western Illinois University, there was little time to waste. Now, nobody will ever accuse yours truly of being what you might call a real rock in the face of family crisis.

Oh in my professional life I've always seemed capable of holding it together, as they say, in the midst of absolute chaos. I've been able to juggle two or three different breaking news stories in the shadow of a looming deadline, while sorting through a basket of angry mail from various offended readers and even pounded out a story or two with all hell breaking loose around me.

But put me in close proximity to some emergency of a family nature, regardless of its seriousness, and Mrs. Stiles’ oldest boy is about as handy as a cap pistol in a fire fight.

And my wife at the time was more than aware of just how helpful I was going to be during time of need. That's why she made sure that both her mother and mine were in a car following close behind us all the way from Galesburg to Macomb.

If she wasn't fully enlightened as to my worthiness in a moment of family crisis, then I'm certain it became painfully aware, every pun intended, by the look of stark terror in my eyes as I stood beside her in the labor room at McDonough District Hospital that day. ''If you're going to have that look on your face,'' she said about five minutes into the process, ''then go someplace else.'' Well many men would have wiped the deer-caught-in-the-headlights look off their face and sucked it up for the sake of the wife. But, I am not ''many men,'' or at least I wasn't at that time in my life. I took the hint and went to sweat it out in the fathers’ waiting room. While that decision probably did wonders for my wife's disposition, well as much as could be expected, it didn't seem to help me at all. In fact, I spent the next couple of hours entertaining thoughts about everything that could and couldn’t possibly go wrong during the ongoing procedure. To put it succinctly, I was scared. I was so scared, you couldn’t have driven a ten-penny nail up, well you get the picture. To prove that point, I can still recall the first words I spoke to my mother at just past 4:30 that afternoon when the nurse came into the room to inform me that I was a father.

I had a beautiful red-headed daughter and I immediately broke down in tears and was comforted by my mother, who asked what was I crying about? ''Mom, I'd rather face the entire North Vietnamese Army than go through this!'' I tried to get out between sobs.

Now my daughter, later hearing the story that I'd cried that day in the waiting room, suffered for years under the mistaken impression that I'd been disappointed that she wasn't a little boy. But believe me, that wasn't it. It was just her old man's lack of courage in those kind's of situations. That's probably why I’m always the last one in my family to be given anything remotely resembling bad news. You know, just a couple of weeks back I was at my oldest daughter's house and trying to get my grandson ready for school while she was getting my granddaughter ready for a nap.

Anyway, we were running late and I could only find one of Jakey's shoes. I ran around that house like a chicken with its head chopped off looking in every nook and cranny, trying to locate that blue striped shoe, and getting more panicky by the minute. No matter how hard I looked, I didn't have a clu e.

Finally I shouted out something like, ''Where is that damn shoe,'' almost at the top of my lungs. All I could see was the fact my grandson was going to be late for school and it was all my fault because I couldn't round up one little bit of canvas and rubber.

Well, leave it to my daughter, who is, thank God, much more like her mother than me.

Immediately, she was there, telling me to calm down and informing that the little guy had another perfectly serviceable pair of shoes, which she proceeded to hand me, and would I please put them on and take my grandson off to school.

I guess the only one of us that's made any real progress in these matters over the last 33 years is my daughter.

Happy birthday Lori Shannon.

Uploaded to The Zephyr website March 27, 2002

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