Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Best Day Of Your Life

I wrote something in my book that already needs to be revised. 

It's what I consider to be my favorite type of ride. 

Favorite Type of Ride Number Two, I wrote, is the one with the "elderly active" passenger.  That's when you get someone in the cab who's way up there in years - like over eighty - but who's still enjoying living.  I find myself exhilarated, with hope renewed that I still have many more years to go with vitality and good health. 

And Favorite Type of Ride Number One was said to be the fare with someone who's coming in from the airport who, with great anticipation, is seeing Manhattan for the very first time.  Wide-eyed and agog, this person is like a pilgrim finally setting foot in the holy land.  His excitement is contagious - I assume the role of the embedded tour guide, but with the secret agenda of absorbing his thrill vicariously.

I had a passenger a few weeks ago, however, who brought me to the realization that there is another type of ride that trumps these other two.  It's a very specific kind of ride.  It has to have a hospital as its starting point.  It has to be a man.  And it has to be the first time this man has left the hospital after having been there for many hours.  You've probably guessed what it is - it's the father of a newborn infant returning home after the birth of his first-born son or daughter.

He hailed me at the entrance of Mt. Sinai at 5th Avenue and 101st Street a little before midnight, a thirtyish fellow en route to the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn.  Although I'm always curious, I'm usually hesitant about asking anyone about why they've been at the hospital.  After all, it could be something terrible and they may not want to discuss it with their cab driver.  So I just say hello, perhaps offer some small talk, and try to give them enough space so they know if they want to talk about it, I'm approachable.  But this guy looked happy, so I jumped in.

"Visiting hours over?" I asked.

That was all it took. 

Slowly at first, suppressing emotion, and then with an open faucet of joy, he told me the story of the birth of his daughter.  Surely there can be nothing in the realm of communication between humans that is more certain to create an instant, Krazy Glue kind of bonding than this. Here was a young man who had just been through what for many will be the most dramatic episode of their lives.  Would the baby be healthy?  Will the mother be okay?  So much of everyone's future depends on the outcome - and it had all turned out fine.  A newly minted father, if he's to be any kind of father at all, is a fountain of exuberance at a time like this. 

And my passenger was.

But it had not been easy.  In labor, the obstetrician observed that the baby's heartbeat was fluctuating between too fast and too slow, a danger sign.  He therefore bypassed the natural birth process and, with his team, performed an emergency C-section.  It worked.  And a brand new, eight pound member of the human race reported in for muster.

"What's her name?"


He went on to explain that all the names he and his wife liked were already the names of people they knew and they didn't want anyone to think they'd named the baby after them when in fact they hadn't.  But they liked the name "Harper" because it's the name of one of their favorite authors, Harper Lee, who wrote To Kill A Mockingbird, and no one they knew had that name.  Also because it has a nice sound - "Harper".  I agreed.

"And her middle name is Francesca," he added.  "After Dr. Francesco - the obstetrician.  Who saved her life."

Somebody tells you something like that, the beauty and the correctness of the acknowledgement is so profound - you may never forget having been told such a thing.  I guess it was that which made me realize that this was my very favorite kind of ride.

Along with one other thing.  It gives me the opportunity to spring on the new parent one of my favorite, albeit corny, jokes.

First I tell him that I'm the father of a grown-up daughter myself.  Then:

"I hope you don't make the same mistake we made."


"Don't teach her how to talk.  Go with the deaf sign language.  It will save you a fortune in telephone bills."

Always gets a laugh.

It was a half-hour ride to his place in Brooklyn.  Along the way I was able to indoctrinate the Parent Club initiate with a few gems of observation and insight that I've gathered in my tenure as a father.  I told him there are few, if any, lines of demarcation that are as distinct in your life as the line that divides Before and After the time you became a parent. 

"In looking back, you will always see it that way."

Then I told him something about his daughter.  "That tiny little baby back there that you could pick up with one hand?  In about two years, three at the most, she's going to see you doing something.  Then she's going to tell you that you're doing it wrong.  And she will be right." 

He liked that, so I felt I'd been given a green light to expound on something else. 

"You know, there's only one kind of love that can really be called 'unconditional'," I offered, "and that's the love from parent to child.  That's the strongest love that there is. It's very powerful.  It will change you.  No matter how good a person you already are, it will  make you a better one."

I believe that to be true.

He paid with a credit card and the meter spit out a receipt.  I held it out to him through the partition.

"Oh, no, that's okay," he said.

"Take it," I insisted, "it's got the date that your daughter was born on it."

Big smile. 

He took the receipt.

And we shook hands.