Number Nine

MY OLDEST SON, Walt, turned nine today—which means I’m old. His life so far has been an amazing adventure for me and my wife, Kathleen, and as he inches closer to becoming a teenager (holy mother of god!), I know good things are in store for him. Walt finds joy in almost anything, tells bad jokes, is a good student, and loves sports. He’s learning about life, and for the most part, doing an excellent job at it.

Most importantly, he has a good, big heart—his mom and I are very, very proud of him.

The day of his birth was like a long layover at the airport. Because my wife was close to having preeclampsia, her doctor wanted to induce labor on the due date if the baby didn’t come on his own. He didn’t. So in the early morning of December 20, 2005, my wife and I went to the hospital, were admitted, and within the hour she was induced. So began her day-long journey through the incredible transcendental ups, downs, and pains of natural childbirth—I waited by her side, running for water, ice chips, and towels.

Midway through the afternoon, I turned the room’s TV to ESPN. I had read a little throughout the morning, made a couple of runs for coffee and food, but I sensed Kathleen was getting closer to the delivery. I wanted some mindless, visual fodder for my brain, which was on overload about becoming a dad. A special was running on the disgraced football coach, George O’Leary, who had made the most of his second chance in the coaching world and was just finishing a great first season at the University of Central Florida. It was nice show, and I always think of O’Leary on Walt’s birthday.

A couple of hours later, Kathleen hit the final phase of her labor. A day nurse had been with us off and on throughout the day, but when the magic moment finally arrived, her doctor and a team of medical maternity professionals arrived quickly. It was an awesome, wonderful thing.

Walter Gerard Stallard was born at 5:02 in the afternoon.

IMG_0341 Me and Walt, about an hour and a half after he was born.

The kid has loved a lot of things in nine years. Barney, Mickey Mouse, Peppa the Pig, and SpongeBob. Buzz Lightyear. Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Most recently it’s Pokémon cards and Madden football. I didn’t have an inkling of a clue about parenthood his first night on the planet, and at times I still don’t. But the kid (and his younger brother) has probably taught me more about life than I’ll ever be able to teach him.

Happy birthday, Walty. It just gets better and better.