A Tale of Two Daughters

The Story of One Man and His Two Daughters Born 42 Years Apart

A Tale of Two Fathers is the story of how, and why, a man transformed from feckless father to devoted dad . . . and how America changed with him.

October 10, 1967: “I’m . . . pregnant,” Fran haltingly reveals on our drive to her Elementary Education class. “So, you never got the birth control pills?” I ask, as my mind flashes back to 1963, the year my college girlfriend suffered a perforated uterus during an illegal, back-alley abortion I’d pressured her into. With the sudden realization that married with child is a 3-A draft deferment bolstered by that gruesome memory, I cast aside hopes for a footloose, free-spirited life, as well as my apprehension about fatherhood. And I offer up the romantic proposal that every woman longs to hear. “What the hell! Let’s get married.”

January 1, 2010: “I’m pregnant!” my wife Shonnie gleefully exclaims. “Jesus, my boys are still swimming!” I say with shock, amazement, and trepidation. At sixty-six I’d assumed fathering another child was out of the question, but it’s impossible not to be caught up in Shonnie’s joy. And after a deep breath, I take her in my arms. “Holy shit, we’re having a baby!”

Thus begin two tales of fatherhood, one in 1968 when the Viet Nam War rages, Bobby and Martin are assassinated, and manhood is modeled after Mad Men’s Don Draper. The other in 2010 when the Middle East is aflame, Barack Obama is the first black president, and I suddenly find myself in a role not unlike Jay Pritchett, Modern Family’s aging patriarch.

Elle, my first daughter, is fathered by an reckless, immature twenty-five-year-old who casually reads Rolling Stone in the waiting room during his baby’s delivery; a man-child who vanishes at the faintest whiff of poopy diapers; who considers his newborn a useless, helpless creature who eats, drinks, pees, defecates, and gets in the way of his good times.

Gracelyn, my second daughter, is parented by a spirited, self-aware sexagenarian who catches his newborn child at delivery; a man who reads Goodnight Moon to her at bedtime; who joyfully joins in family dances to the music of Live from Here.

“I didn’t think old people could have babies,” was my teenage granddaughter Melanie’s initial response when her mom Elle told her that Shonnie was pregnant. When Elle explained that it was only older women who couldn’t have babies, Melanie reflected a moment, then replied, “I thought they were just going to have cats.”