Thirty-two years and two months ago, I motored up to the doorway of my favorite coffee bar in Rome on my moped and shouted excitedly to the owners, “È un maschio!” It’s a boy!
“Auguri!” they shouted at me as I whirled and sped back to the hospital.
My first child was born in Rome, something he has always been proud of. Our experience of childbirth in Rome in the 1980s was definitely old school. Husbands had to petition to be in the delivery room with their wives, and they definitely were not going to be allowed to cut the umbilical cord or any other New Agey practice.
Scratch the dolphin tank and meditative music. This was grab-the-bed-rail and do-the-hee-hoo-breathing through the contractions.
My wife forgot all her Italian as the doctor was telling her to push, so I played the role of translator, which made me at least somewhat useful at that moment. And then, in an instant, none of the months of discomfort and the worries and the distance from our U.S. families mattered at all: A son was born to us.
It was a moment of ineffable joy, of tender pride in my exhausted wife, of sheer gratitude for this little miracle who would change our lives completely.
I’ve been thinking about that day 32 years and two months ago because that little 7-pound newborn Roman souvenir has himself fathered a child. In one final glorious push my daughter-in-law made her husband a father and me a grandfather.
Somewhat befitting my age, the first person I gave the good news to was not my barista but the receptionist at my eye doctor’s clinic. That was when it dawned on me what the text was saying.
“È un maschio!” my son texted.
“Congratulations,” the receptionist smiled when I told her.
Suddenly the future seems not so bleak. I am now invested for two generations, and I feel a kind of Abrahamic pride that my race might continue. My heirs won’t outnumber the sands of the shore, but in some primal, wonderful way, I have a foothold in the future that will, God willing, far outlast me.
My grandson was named Theodore Charles after his paternal great grandfather and his maternal great grandfather. My dad died 25 years ago, but I can imagine it would please him to be remembered in this way. I know that people like to come up with original monikers for their children, but my wife and I have always appreciated the idea of drawing on names from our heritage. The name becomes a thread linking past and future.
We are part of a continuity, genetically tied to all who went before us, known and unknown, and that name symbolizes our communion. We can debate nature vs. nurture till the cows come home, but both have their hands in the mix of who we are and who we become.
I find it fascinating to see one family tree that boasts of engineers generation after generation, and another that boasts of musicians, but what one does with these genetic promptings is all about today. We are the weavings of a thousand different strands and influences, and if we are lucky, we pass the best along to others.
Of course, not always the best. My dad confessed once how disturbing it is for a father to see his poor traits appear in his children. He never told me which specific traits I could blame on him, but being a parent now, I understand.
We want only the best for our children, and now our children’s children, but then we see the flashes of anger, or stubbornness, insecurity, or self-centeredness. Our imperfections thread the weave also.
For now, I just see a flawless little bundle with an impressive wail come dinnertime, and the tender joy I feel for a grandchild I only just met is dizzying.
And as I enter a new family name into my prayer list, there are so many things I would wish for him.
It is a blessing that he will not remember the year 2020, so that is a great start.
To have loving parents and a house with books in it gives any child a huge advantage in life, and that wish has been granted as well.
So I will pray for harder stuff: That he loves the Lord, even in the dark times, even in the angsty teenage years. Or at least that he never stops believing that the Lord loves him, no matter what.
I pray that he has a heart for others, never reluctant to extend a hand, always willing to help shoulder a burden.
I wish him a virtuous life and a merciful temperament.
May he be spared his grandfather’s flaws and abound in his father’s strengths. Amen.