Honey, I'm pregnant." "Honey, I'm going to have a baby." "Guess what, Daddy?"
No matter how the news is given, the effect is the same: shock, bewilderment and fear. My initial reaction was, "I can't be a daddy. My father's a daddy; I'm still a kid."
I was aboard a U.S. Naval destroyer cruising off the coast of South American when I got a letter giving me the news. Shocked, bewildered and scared, I wondered how this could have happened. My sex education came from friends in the parking lot behind the school, or on a street corner after church.
I was wide-eyed and attentive as the older boys would tell of their experiences, but the truth was I had little idea what they were talking about. My parents said the stork brought babies, and I believed them. But, then, I believed in Santa Claus and the Easter bunny for quite a long time too.
At first, I wondered if I was the father. Seems to me that I was never home, but apparently I was, once, and just long enough. I was excited and bragged to my division officer that, "I'm having a baby!"
"How far along are you?" he replied.
"Oh, not me," I explained. "It's my wife. She just wrote me that she's pregnant."
"I was hoping it was something like that," he smiled.
That first child was a remarkable experience. Like I said, I wasn't home much, but when I was, I would take my expectant bride shopping. I bought her a new maternity dress, and she wore it once, to the Destroyermen's Ball. I danced with her, trying to be as careful and considerate as possible, not wanting to risk injury to her or our baby.
Then the band played a polka. I sat stunned as Janice and another sailor danced. Now, even in that fancy new dress, she looked like she had a basketball in her bloomers, but undeterred by her condition, she began hopping and skipping up and down the dance floor.
A few months later, I was again at sea when I received a telegram telling me I was the proud papa of a baby boy. It would be another week before the ship was back in port and I could see my son.
I rushed to the hospital to see my wife lying in a bed, watching television. Then, a nurse brought in Steven. I don't think he was too happy; his eyes were shut tight, his little face was pinched and he wasn't shy in voicing his discontent.
It was with trepidation that I held him for the first time. He did stop crying, although he never opened his eyes. Then, just as I was getting adjusted to being a father, the nurse came in and took him back to the nursery.
A couple of days later I was told I could take my family home. As she was being discharged, I was given a bill.
"I thought the Navy paid for her," I said.
"They do," was the replay. "This is for her meals."
I chuckled to myself. Somebody had really screwed up. The bill was for $10. I know my wife, and that never would have paid for so much as one breakfast.
I looked at the bill, and without saying another word, paid it, grabbed my wife and kid, and left.
Shortly after Steven was born, Janice decided she had had enough of motherhood and of me, and she ran off with a used-car salesman, leaving me with Steven.
It was probably the nicest thing she could ever have done for me. A couple of years later, I married Geni. I was just getting adjusted to married life when she came home from the doctor one day and said, "Guess what?"
My new daughter, Diane, was not at all cooperative. Geni was almost a month overdue before I rushed her to the hospital. As it turned out, there was no reason to hurry: It would be another 24 hours before Diane would decide to make an appearance.
I was happy. I now had a son and a daughter. I was bursting with excitement as I drove up to Holy Cross Hospital in Salt Lake City to bring the girls home. This time, it would cost me only $7 to bail them out. Girls, apparently, are cheaper than boys.
Then, a year later, I was again given the happy news. But by now, I was an old hand and took it in stride. I had regained my sense of humor, but Geni had not. I suggested she have the baby at a furniture store, the one that advertised "free delivery." She threw an ashtray at me.
Clinton was born at 11 p.m. on July 3. If he had waited another hour, he would have been a firecracker. It turned out not to matter. He wasn't a bang, but he sure was loud.
His delivery was much quicker and easier than Diane's. I had fallen asleep in a chair next to the bed when Geni went into labor. She told the nurse not to bother me, and I was sleeping peacefully until the unexpected outburst from my new son.
Now and then, someone will ask my advice about teenage romance. I advise them to wash their hands, be careful around toilet seats, but never stay too long at sea.