divorce, fatherhood, parenting, Uncategorized

Grandpa? Nope, Late Fatherhood

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Handsome baby Noah

I became a father when I was 39.  That’s old.  Simple math shows that I will be 57 when my oldest son graduates high school.  “Hey, grandpa–so nice you could be here to watch your grandson on his graduation day!”  Why so old, you ask?  I took a six-year detour with The Practice Wife–thankful that no children resulted from that union.  I remember being 12 and thinking that there was no way I would be ready to be a daddy at 25 and that I had better wait.  At that age, I was not entirely sure of the mechanism used to accomplish fatherhood anyhow; but I gave myself plenty of time to figure it out.  I thought I was wiser at 25 than I had ever been, but I still had some wisdom to acquire and maturity to grow.  Yep, 30 would be a better age to create mini-Eriks.  Shortly after that mark I met the first Mrs. Hanson.

ski lodge

I might have guessed how that would turn out when she stood giggling at our altar in a Ski Lodge in Frisco, CO–giggling because the fireplace was making popping sounds that sounded like someone breaking wind.  The emotional maturity of a first grader.  I would think most women would gush over a two-week honeymoon skiing in Europe, traveling by Eurail to six different countries, skiing over the mountain from Switzerland into Italy under the shadow of the Matterhorn. Or the standing-room-only Christmas Eve service in Zermatt, spoken in a German dialect with locals dressed to the nines and big snowflakes falling. Or ringing in the new year in Salzburg, Austria–birthplace of Mozart–at the Festung while serial cannon fire echoed across the nation from one Austrian border to the next.

Festung

But no!  She grew tired of me and I grew tired of her by the end of that two weeks.  I couldn’t wait to be home to have some alone time.  Surprise, surprise when this marriage didn’t work out.  It didn’t help that we decided to try med school living in different cities 2 1/2 hours apart.  I lost my ‘coolness’ factor when I got the boot from med school–suddenly the first Mrs. Hanson was not going to be married to a doctor after all.  She would have to change that. To make matters worse, we opted to gut an entire house and live in it during the repair.  This is also a great way to stress a marriage.

gutted home

home under renovation

When I met Sara, we talked about our future with little ones running about, refrigerator magnets in place, how we would (as older parents) likely spoil them rotten.  I am glad we made some time to travel, see France, Andorra, Spain, visit Cozumel twice, and make a run of the B & Bs in New England.  Having children in school dramatically slows a parent’s pace to travel and see new places. These days we get to Washington Island in Door Co., WI each summer and to visit family in Iowa.  My wife’s family visits on holidays and mine never visits, except Uncle Sam.

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Uncle Sam (suspenders)

Our oldest son Noah is smart, handsome, and likeable.  He seems to make friends easily and always puts his best foot forward…when he is not at home.  When he is at home he lets his hair down and picks fights with his next younger brother, mixes like oil and water with his mama, and seldom misses a chance to show how lazy he can be–God’s challenge to me as a father. When his teachers have commented on how helpful and polite he is at school, we stop to verify that they are talking about our son.  A friend of ours pointed out that it is good that Noah can “let his hair down at home–and be who he really is.”  My fear is that he will require more of our help once he is of age than I can provide, due to my advancing years.

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Jr. GQ, Noah

Our second oldest son Jonah was speaking in complete sentences when he was 18 months old.  In the words of Shrek “you have the right to remain silent; what you lack is the ability.”  He talks with the sweetest lisp and I know one day that will just be done talking that way.  He has deep chocolatey brown eyes like his mama and is a very sweet and thoughtful boy.  He also knows exactly how to best antagonize his older brother Noah.

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Berry Pickin’ Jojo

Our youngest son, Eli, a.k.a. “Monster Baby” was originally nicknamed this because of his off-the-chart growth.

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Eli!

Not that any of the boys is a shrinking violet–all have been off the chart.  Eli is not yet two years old and is 52 pounds.  His size makes him a monster.  Lately, however…his behavior does too!  He is pure imp these days, having found his terrible two’s early.  He is a game player and one of my favorite pictures of him is when he was helping me put away clean clothes and he put my boxer briefs on his head with his face sticking out one of the leg holes.

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Monster Baby, playing with my boxers on his head!

Trust me, there are times when Sara and I look at each other and second guess our choice to be parents.  We could have had another home in the south of France, but no…we chose parenthood instead!

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I wouldn’t have it any other way! 

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divorce, higher education, medical school

The Practice Wife

personals

Reading the F seeking M ads one day, I came across an ad by a 6th grade social studies teacher who had placed an ad on a dare. The ad made her seem normal enough. Returning to Johnson County Community College for afternoon classes, I couldn’t shake the words from that ad out of my mind. When I returned home that evening, I began drafting my response. I was in nursing administration at a local hospital, looking for a life partner who also liked to breathe, drink water, et cetera, etc. Soon we were seeing other daily, cohabiting in the 1950’s style by maintaining two separate residences.

marathoner

Although I had always enjoyed running, Michelle soon showed me how to train for and complete a marathon. In return, I taught her how to ski and we skied in 6 countries. Our true passion, however, was making a fine art of getting into medical school. Almost two years after we met, she would have a seat in the Des Moines University class of 2005. I had been unconditionally accepted at the allopathic (MD) program at Kansas University on February 8th of 2001 and Michelle and I were notified by phone from DMU on February 22nd, 2001 that we were both accepted to DMU’s osteopathic program. But…I already had the golden ticket! I had been trying to gain a seat in KU’s program for 4 years, then suddenly I had one.

downhill skier

No way was I not going to be an MD like my little brother. Soon I was waiting for Michelle to be woman enough to say “you are my husband, we both have a ticket to DMU–you belong with me in Des Moines.” She was waiting for me to man up and do the right thing by joining her at DMU. We failed each other…and convinced ourselves that we could keep our marriage strong and study together on the weekends. How could I have known then that I married a woman like my mother’s mother La Verne–a social climber who would inevitably reject me when I got the boot from KU’s program and therefore would not become a physician?  I had been an RN for five years at KU–I knew it was a poisonous, unfriendly campus–but I wanted the MD degree anyway.  It makes me sick to my stomach to think that I missed some little cue that would have told me who she was and who she turned out to be.

Des Moines U

Michelle and I had fun.  We danced, ran, skied, and enjoyed being young and having too much money.  But that was all just a stage, a practice run at the institution that is marriage.  Michelle bailed on our marriage the moment the fun and easy part was over.  At that time of my life I was working in Des Moines on the weekends, staying at the Holiday Inn between shifts, and then returning to our marital home in eastern Iowa three hours away.  Lesson number one for thick-headed Norsemen: don’t choose a different medical school to attend than your young wife, 3 hours away.  Lesson number two for thick-headed Norsemen: don’t gut an entire home and then start the renovation over from that point–covering and uncovering the marital bed each day is a great way not to stress a marriage.  I was an idiot, and worse, I had invested in the wrong woman.

money pit      One September day in 2004, I returned home in eastern Iowa from my brother’s farm in SW Wisconsin to a manila envelope from Michelle.  She had moved out three weeks earlier and had sent me the divorce papers with a note asking me to attend to this because her clinicals demanded her time each day during normal business hours. I made a list of 12 errands to run that day, the last being to remove Michelle from my life insurance as the benefactor–keeping her in that position no longer seemed prudent.  I was standing in the doorway of the State Farm office in Maquoketa, IA making an off-handed remark to the secretary about going through a divorce when a young couple with a small child came through the door. I remarked what a big, beautiful girl she was and her father replied “yeah, you’d never know she got the start in life that she had.”  Sensing he was wanting to talk more about this, I took the bait.  We got started talking about little Lucy and Tetrology of Fallot, when her mother remarked about my ‘divorce’ comment.

divorce

“So, you’re going through a divorce, Eh? Well, I just happen to have this sister…” I cut her off.  “No, you don’t understand–I just came from the judge’s office right before coming here.  I am in NO WAY ready for this!” I protested.  Amy would not back down.  “Oh, she’s a good cook, she’s tall, comes from a good family.”  State Farm closed and pushed us out onto the sidewalk where Amy continued planning my future.  It was a heated election year and I knew 2/3rds of the registered voters in the county drank the blue Kool-Aid.  “Well, I am a Republican.  A staunch conservative, to be even more precise!”  I bellowed, hoping she would give up and walk away in disgust.  Instead, Amy’s face lit up and said “Well, so are we!  I mean, so is she!”  “Ah, crap” I thought.  Finally Amy added “wouldn’t it be nice at the end of a long day of renovating that old house if you had a friend in this area to go see a movie with?”  Bam.  She had me.  I was mighty lonely, reeling from the biggest, most personal type of rejection a human being can suffer.  “Okay, when do you plan to talk with her next?”  Amy, being Amy, said “oh, I’m gonna step around the corner and call her right now!” Many months later Sara would enlighten me to the real content of that conversation: Amy called Sara and said “I just met the father of your children.  Don’t eff this up!”

first date 2

The amazing part of this exchange is that after only about forty minutes of talking to me, Amy could discern that I was a suitable mate for her older sister.  Not just a suitable mate, but a life partner.  Wow.  That still makes me shake my head in wonder.  Later that same night I had three hours of windshield time with which to call Sara.  Although it started on an awkward note (Hi, I’m Erik–some random dude your sis was totally crunching on for you earlier at the State Farm), soon each of us loosened up and we arranged to talk again on the phone Saturday morning, Sunday, and then even Monday evening when I picked up an extra shift due to an ill call.  By the time I ever laid eyes on her, Sara and I had spent about 8 hours talking on the phone, sharing values, dreams, hopes, desires.  We agreed to meet in Davenport at the Border’s bookstore on 53rd at 5:30 p.m, 9/24/2004.  I was perusing Ann Coulter’s new book Treason when a tall drink of water with short brown hair and brown eyes came up to me and softly said “Erik?”  She bought my coffee, she insisted, because she didn’t want to feel ‘beholden’ to me at the end of the evening. I sat there, enjoying adult conversation with a kind woman with big, soulful brown eyes. It was great to not be so lonely, if only for a little while.  There were a handful of patrons sitting there when we sat down.  Three solid hours later, deep in conversation, we looked up and noticed older women quilting at every single table–as if a flash quilting mob had enveloped us.  We chuckled in wonderment at where they all had come from, us so completely unaware.

quilting bee

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