A Birth, a Death, and a Surreal and Life Altering Week

It was a surreal and life altering week. My wife was two days past our baby’s due date and we had just summited the mountain behind our house, in an attempt to induce labor, when I got the call from my brother; “Josh Pops died, he passed away this afternoon.” Two days prior a woman ran a red light and hit my father on his motorcycle. He was airlifted to the hospital where they induced a coma until they could stabilize him. Although he was in critical condition the doctors expected him to make a full recovery so it was a shock to everyone when he suddenly died.

The following morning after a false labor trip to the hospital I readied my things to leave for the airport and face the grueling sixteen hour flight from Seoul to Philadelphia but an hour before I was to leave my wife went into labor, for real this time,  and we rushed to the hospital. I had never seen a baby born, save for the horrifying sex ed video I had to watch in middle school, and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. A few hours after we arrived at the hospital my wife was screaming bloody murder every few seconds. Long, shrill, piercing, cries that sent shivers down my spine.  I wasn’t able to understand the nurses’ rapid fire Korean but took comfort in the fact that they seemed to be calm. When I asked my wife what the nurse said and if everything was alright she told me, in Korean the language she uses when most incensed, to shut up. For some reason I thought the screaming and agony was something that only happened in movies or in a time before modern medicine.

Three hours later I was asked to wait in the hallway. I sat by the door of her room in my scrubs listening intently but heard only screams. I started to panic. Oh man this doesn’t seem normal what if something is wrong? Maybe they tried to tell me something was wrong but I didn’t understand. Damn it! I should have been more diligent with my Korean studies. Oh no why did another nurse go into the room? Why is that nurse behind the counter on the phone? Is that concern on her face or just boredom? What if the baby is deformed or a Siamese twin or something…no, no they would have caught that on a sonogram…get ahold of yourself man!  

My panicked thoughts were cut short by the nurse motioning for me to come back into the room. The doctor handed me the scissors, I cut the cord and the baby was placed on my wife’s stomach. I had been nervous for months about seeing my son for the first time. I was afraid I might see him and feel nothing or that he would be hideously ugly and I’d have to pretend for the rest of my life he wasn’t. I wondered if I could love an ugly child. The last sonogram we had increased my worries as it appeared he had the bulbous nose of an eighty year old alcoholic. The moment I saw him every last fear disappeared and was replaced by awe and intense love. I stayed two more days with my wife and baby before I had to fly back for my father’s funeral.

After more than twenty five hours travel time I walked into my parents house and gave my mother a hug. I said hello to my brother and sister but beyond that it didn’t seem there were words to express our feelings. The next day around two hundred people showed up for my father’s memorial. There was a twenty one gun salute, bagpipes, taps on the trumpet and stories told by his friends and family. My remaining four days in the States were a whirlwind of family and friends stopping over at my parent’s house. Everyday ended the same; family and friends sitting around a chiminea on the patio sipping cocktails and talking about my father.

After another marathon journey, which lasted several hours longer thanks flying against the Jet Stream I was back at home with my wife and baby and it’s in the early hours of morning, or the late hours of the night, that silence seeps out of the cracks and corners slowly filling the room with an inexplicable numinous density. It’s here were I finally muster the courage to peer into the void of all that we’ll never do: the agains and the firsts, the debates and philosophical ramblings of beer buzzed kindred spirits illuminated by a flickering fire set to the soundtrack of crickets, the grandson he’ll never know, a town I know he would have loved, motorcycle rides, camp outs, and kayak trips.

The silence reminds me to remember the father who taught me all of the things a boy should know; how to count between the lightning and thunder, to pitch a tent, dove call, turn a blade of grass into a whistle, steer a canoe, about the Lena Lenape and where to dig for their arrowheads, cloud formations, plants, birds, trees, boxing, how to be a gentleman, that sometimes you have to fight but most if the time you should turn the other cheek, and the importance of family. I am reminded how later in life he taught me to not worry about what others think, that we all have to search for our own truth and do what makes us the happiest. It’s something I’ve lived my life by and what ultimately led me to the most fulfilling, and terrifying, experiences of my life.

As I watch my baby boy sleep in the early hours of the morning, or the late hours of the night, I hope I can be the father to him that my father was to me and pray I’ll be able to instill in him the love of nature, thirst for knowledge, and passion for living my father instilled in me. I can do nothing more than strive to be to my son what my father was to me: my hero, my father, and my best friend.

Columnist Joshua Lorenzo Newett is a novelist, entrepreneur, and English professor at The Korean Naval Academy in Jinhae, South Korea. Saving Bill Murray, his second novel, was recently published here.

Image of changing leaves courtesy of Shutterstock

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