My wife loves using the word "that" in a declarative sentence; her favorites: "I knew that," "You're not going out looking like that," and "I can't believe you did that," which is always accompanied by "the look." Her saying "I can't believe you did that" can often be confusing, as there have been times when I wasn't quite sure what she was referring to and what I should apologize for. I certainly didn't want to apologize for a "that" she was unaware of.
Our quintessential "I can't believe you did that" moment took place on Friday, Dec. 6, 1985, at New York Hospital Cornell Med Center, the day before my daughters were born. That day, there was absolutely no doubt as to what she was referring to.
The events leading up to that moment began the day before. My wife came home from her job in the city -- standing all the way on Metro-North -- and said she was experiencing a lot of pain; she was six months pregnant at the time. I immediately drove her to Stamford Hospital.
The next day, while at work, I received a call telling me that my wife had gone into premature labor and that she was going to be transported by ambulance to New York Hospital Cornell Med Center, where they had a neonatal intensive care unit that could handle 27-week-old preemies. I was overcome with uncertainty and fear. Heart pounding, I raced out of my office, jumped into my car and drove like I was trying to hold the lead in the Indianapolis 500.
I arrived at Stamford Hospital just in time to get into the ambulance. The driver, sensing my fear, kept assuring me that everything will be fine and how the medical staff at New York Hospital is expert in handling these situations. When we got on FDR Drive, it seemed we hit every pothole, which made me think that my daughters would be born in the back of an ambulance -- and would I be needed to help out?
When we pulled into New York Hospital, my wife was rushed upstairs to a labor room and was given a drug to stop the contractions. The doctors said they would do everything possible to prolong the pregnancy.
I stayed by her side throughout the day as she was examined, prodded and poked, well aware of the pain she was in and feeling hopeless. Occasionally, I'd mumble something about how everything was going to be OK, knowing full well that it was me I was trying to reassure.
Late that night, starving and in need of some fresh air, I thought I'd hit the streets and look for some pizza, the food that cures all ills and one of my fave comfort foods -- and if ever I needed comforting it was at that moment. Now it was going to face its stiffest test.
I walked the streets in a daze, my internal pizza radar heading me in the right direction. I devoured two slices and made my way back to the hospital, stopping to pick up a chocolate bar -- another of my fave comfort foods -- along the way.
When I got back my wife was still asleep, so careful not to make a sound I removed the wrapper from the chocolate. Then just as I was about to take my first bite, my wife woke up and with eyes blazing and venom in her voice said, "I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU DID THAT! All I've had all day is ice chips! What were you thinking?"
Hit with a tidal way of guilt, I slinked out of the room then slinked back in and apologized for being a total jerk. Then I give her the look that people who really care about each other cultivate throughout their relationship and we both broke up laughing; we were laughing at what life is like and how it can get pretty crazy at times.
Kelly finally came home from the hospital after 4 1/2 months; Erin came home on June 18, after 6 1/2 months. It was the best Father's Day present any dad could receive, even if it was three days late.
This Father's Day, as with every other Father's Day, I'll remember my entrance into "Dad World" on Dec. 7, 1985. When it comes to my daughters, who always give me the gift of their love, joy and laughter, I eternally wear my heart on my sleeve.
They're still the apples of my eye and when Kelly calls me "Daddyish," as she has since she was a little girl, I melt inside and think, "I can't believe she still does that."
Barry Halpin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.