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'It's the Toughest Work' : New Dad Bill McCoy Compiles a Moving Chronicle of Fatherhood in the '90s

June 14, 1995|JOSH GETLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Who ever said Father's Day is dull?

My first holiday as a new dad began at 4 a.m. last year, when I was jarred from sleep. That's normal when you have a 3-month-old baby, but this time there was something wrong with me--a stabbing pain in my lower back.

I couldn't shake it, and there was no going back to bed. Luckily, a friend was staying over, so my wife and I left our daughter with her and raced to a hospital emergency room, where I passed a kidney stone 11 hours later.

Returning home, woozy and drained, I found our baby, Alex, squirming on the living room rug with a rattle in her hand and a quizzical look in her eyes. They seemed to be saying: "Where have you been--and where's my bottle?"

So much for being the center of attention. Once, I could have milked that kidney stone story for weeks. But now someone else held the spotlight. It was time for Alex's nap, and later she'd need a bath. When she began to cry, I picked her up, fighting off pain yet glad to be home.

"Happy Father's Day," a friend joked.

Being Dad does that to you. It's the toughest work you'll ever take on--and nobody thanks you for it. Is the office getting a little crazy? Try reasoning with a toddler when she throws her first tantrum in public and sits down on a busy Manhattan sidewalk.

The rewards are equally intense: From the minute I held our newborn daughter in my arms, I felt proud as never before. Alex has brought new laughter and love into our home, and if the chores of fatherhood are immense, so are the daily joys she gives us. Life would be unimaginable without her.

Since my first Father's Day, I've met other men who rave about their kids the same way. It's better than any locker room talk, and it makes us humble. After all, we're just ordinary guys, totally smitten with our children.

You won't see us on TV, even though our numbers are growing. We're everywhere, so that makes us boring. Maybe someone should write a book.

*

Enter Bill McCoy.

An amiable fellow, he's the only male editor at Parents magazine in New York and the proud father of Amanda, a rambunctious 2 1/2-year-old. In 1993, he organized a poll on fatherhood for readers, and the experience rocked him. The dads who responded sent in poems, drawings, photographs, songs and passionate essays about their kids. All wish they could spend more time with them.

"It was such an outpouring of love," he says. "The guys who wrote in were down-to-earth people, like insurance agents, truck drivers and military men. They were eloquent, and we don't hear these kind of voices every day."

When his boss suggested he write a book about fatherhood, McCoy, 41, jumped at the chance. The result is "Father's Day" (Times Books), a humorous and moving chronicle of what it means to be a new dad in the 1990s.

Although bookstores are flooded with works on fatherhood, few have the ring of authenticity that echoes through McCoy's slender volume. He puts himself on display, warts and all. The result is a dizzying jumble of ups and downs.

"How could two years scoot by so quickly?" he asks his wife, Sharon.

"Time flies when you're shell-shocked," she answers.

McCoy devotes an entire chapter to the joys of bathing a baby. Another details the trauma he experienced when Amanda was in danger of getting heart disease. There are painful passages about children and marital tensions.

Mostly, though, the book is rollicking and good-humored. The last thing McCoy wants to do is put on airs. He acknowledges that fathers have a long way to go, especially when it comes to sharing child-rearing responsibilities.

In a perfect world, he suggests, men and women would each work a half week and divide child-care responsibilities. Until then, the imbalance is a problem.

"All I wanted to do is talk about what gives me pleasure as a father, and what troubles me," McCoy says. "The worst thing you can do is tell another man what kind of dad he should be. Each man invents it for himself."

*

Sometimes, you make it up on the spot. On a balmy morning, I set out to interview McCoy in his New Jersey country home. Since we're talking about family, I've brought along my wife and Alex, now 15 months. This is a journalistic first for me, but as a Geezer Dad, I'm ready for anything.

Naturally, there are interruptions: Alex demands a bagel after cruising Amanda's playroom. She's fascinated by the horses flicking their tails in a corral outside. When she tumbles accidentally to the grass, she bursts into tears. "Bye-bye!" she announces, dusting herself off and walking away.

"Daddy's writing a story," I try to explain as we pick our way through a train wreck of toys in the author's living room.

"Baby!" answers Alex.

If ever an author looked the part, it's McCoy. Padding about in khakis, polo shirt and moccasins, he's got the smooth confidence of a parent who's seen it all . . . at least the first 30 months. At this moment--with his daughter whirling through the house--my questions are the least of his concerns.

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