Ask any dad and most will agree: you can’t be ready ahead of time for the job of being a father.
That was especially true in 1978 for Wayne, to whom fatherhood came early — 13 weeks early.
Doctors were as surprised as everyone else when Wayne’s wife, Alice, gave birth to twins. In 1978, before ultrasounds, the boys’ heartbeats were so in sync that the doctors believed she was having a healthy single pregnancy. Friends and family thought Wayne was pulling a prank when he called to say he had twin sons.
The joking mood turned serious as doctors worked to keep the twins alive, born at 27 weeks gestation.
During the roller-coaster ride of their sons’ touch-and-go existence, Wayne and Alice drew closer to God and to one another. Wayne’s faith had been lukewarm since adolescence when he’d quit attending church altogether. But when the pastor of St.Paul Lutheran Church in Pomaria, S.C. arrived, scrubbed up and used sterile water to baptize each son, Wayne’s faith in Christ was cemented. That day, in the hospital conference room, he prayed and placed his trust in the Lord, no matter what the future held for him and his family.
Each day after finishing his work as an accountant at a Columbia, S.C. construction company, Wayne joined his wife at the hospital. It was a daily occurrence-except the one day the family gathered around the tiny coffin of the oldest twin, 9-day-old Patrick, who had developed intestinal gangrene and died of a staph infection.
Patrick’s death shook everyone’s faith, including Wayne’s. The bigger twin, he had fully developed lungs, a healthy heart and greater odds of survival than his brother. Patrick had outstanding medical care, parental contact and so many people to lift him up in prayer, but he still had died.
While Wayne and Alice grieved, their other son’s condition remained so tenuous that they had no idea if he would be alive when they visited the hospital the next morning. Weighing less than two pounds, he had open heart surgery just 12 days after the funeral. Once more, people prayed. The operation marked a turning point. There were still ups and downs, but their son’s condition improved steadily during the next two months.
During one hospital visit, the marks of fatherhood were difficult to see. Wayne, in scrubs, had forgotten to put on his mask. Some medical students assumed he was a doctor and began asking questions about the child’s condition. Wayne answered in such detail that they continued to mistake him for a doctor until their supervisor told them: “Wayne’s not one of the doctors. He’s one of the daddies.”
Just before Christmas, the hospital allowed Wayne and Alice to bring their baby home even though he was a pound under the weight requirement for release.
Four years later, Wayne and Alice had another child, Andrew.
The family lived next door to Alice’s parents, and Wayne’s father-in-law taught him how to run the combine that harvested the corn, oats, and milo they would grind into hog feed. He showed him how to butcher the hogs when the weather turned cold, so Wayne literally helped put meat on the family table.
In time Wayne became an active member of the family’s church, St. Paul. He joined the choir, led worship as a cantor and taught Sunday school. He brought his two son’s along to the Lutheran men’s group’s suppers and lake outings. The boys sometimes played beneath the pews while Wayne was at choir practice.
Wayne spent countless hours with his boys. Either he or his wife would read to them every night. They attended parent-teacher conferences and dealt with the occasional fistfight. Wayne helped his sons learn to ride bikes and waterski. He taught them both about gun safety and respect for wildlife when they hunted rabbits and deer.
Alice and Wayne dealt with first crushes, parties, girlfriends, fender-benders and all that went along with raising teenage sons. Wayne did his best to be fair, to be consistent and to treat each son equally. He helped with trigonometry homework, trombone lessons, singing and building props for the high school band.
During those years, Wayne received advice from other parents who often stayed after choir practice to chat about their children. He shared what he could with the other choir members too. Then, on days that came faster than he thought possible, Wayne helped each of his sons to move away to college.
Today, his boys are grown men. Wayne has moved into a new phase of fatherhood including a daughter-in-law (Andrew’s wife, Lindsay), and now Wayne is grandfather to their sons, Thomas (2) and Adam (five months).
The father Wayne became shows how “blessed those are that trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:7). This Father’s Day, Wayne will celebrate being a daddy for more than 32 years. Andrew, Lindsay and their boys will visit and give him a gift with a Father’s Day card attached.
The other envelope he’ll open will contain a plain, white card with one sentence written inside. The card will be from his older son, whose chances of survival were only 3 percent and whose odds of being able to write a sentence were closer to 1 percent.
And the card will read: “Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.”
Reprinted from The Lutheran magazine, June 2011 issue. To subscribe visit www.thelutheran.org or call 800-328-4648.