My father, Arthur Page Woods, Jr., was 39 the day I was born. The circumstances of my birth were a little unusual. My three older siblings were all born in the hospital. In the early hours of my birthday, Mom couldn’t sleep and decided to do the dishes. Soon she felt awful. Before long, things were bad, and my father called the doctor saying Mom was having some bad indigestion. But it wasn’t indigestion—it was ME—and the doctor knew the truth from the moaning he heard in the background over the phone. “Can you get to the hospital?” he inquired. “She can’t even get to the car,” was Dad’s reply. “We’ll be right over,” answered Dr. Anderson.
Not long after, he and his wife, who was his nurse, came to our home to assist my birth. Nurse Anderson had never delivered a baby. She was just an office nurse—so this was a first for her. It was a first for Mom because she had never had a “natural” wakeful childbirth. It was a first for Dad because he had never watched a childbirth. But they all managed just fine. Dad actually got to help! By the time my first cry sounded, Judy, Billy and Kathy were awake in the other room. It was a first for them to get to hold a brand new baby just after she was born. Soon an ambulance arrived to take Mom and me to the hospital—after the fact, where we apparently stayed about 10 days.
That part of the story was related to me by my mother. Here is a rare picture of me as a baby. I think that there was a special bond between my father and me because of that special birth experience he actually shared with me. He was a little more involved also, because my mother was overwhelmed by having yet one more baby at age 40 and other trying things in her life.
Dad had been rather strict and had high expectations of the older kids. He had changed his parenting philosophy in the intervening years, and rather adopted a “provide them what they need and step back and let them grow” way of handling Kathy and me. Whether that was from the prevailing child rearing ideas of Benjamin Spock or just being older and wiser by then, I can’t say, but reports of the marked contrast were often reported to me by Judy and Bill in the years to come.
All I knew was that he was my daddy and I pretty much had him wrapped around my little finger. Not that he wasn’t fully cognizant of the fact—he was, and didn’t mind one little bit. It wasn’t so enthusiastically received by Mom and the older children, as I got older and got away with murder, or, at least, very annoying behavior at times.
But, in retrospect, I have so much to thank my father for to a great degree because of the way he “fathered” me.
I thank him for my self-confidence. I pretty much knew I could do anything I put my mind to. It never occurred to me that being a girl was limiting in any way I cared about. I believed I could do, learn, or be anything. I didn’t have any reason to resent his ideals because they were not forced upon me. I felt no reason to rebel—I just pursued whatsoever I pleased, with his blessing. I never doubted he loved me or supported my interests. This opened the whole world to me!
I automatically loved the things he loved and shared with me—nature, science, the arts, literature, music. Whether it was our nightly bedtime stories with A.A. Milne’s World of Pooh, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, or other classics—all read with character voices and impeccable comic and dramatic timing, or summer camping trips to the Smokey Mountains and Mammoth Caves, or Saturday afternoon trips to Cincinnati Museum of Natural History, or the opera Carmen at the Cincinnati Zoo—I simply adopted an appreciation for all these things as a matter of course.
I figured out that Dad always made these things an “us” experience. Daddy, Kathy, and I all got along swimmingly when we went on our adventures—no fighting—“we” were together, and it just wouldn’t be the same not to all be together. The rest of the time, wasn’t always so cooperative between Kathy and I. It took years for me to recognize this aspect of our family life, and how grateful I am for these happy memories Daddy nurtured.
I wasn’t especially interested at the time in his politics or fascination with technology. But now, lo and behold, those, too, have become mine. Just like Dad, the only radio station I listen to is classical, though I don’t miss the static that accompanied the weak stations he had to listen to back in the 60s and 70s. My passion for trees is directly descended from his. British comedy, now a favorite of mine, I must admit, is a throwback to his Sunday afternoon UHF channel offering of Monty Python. Loud laughter and louder sneezing he passed along to me too.
Dad was happy. He loved life. He was fascinated by everything. Except sports. Me neither. Getting rich? Not so much. Climbing social ladders . . . uh . . . that would be a no. But learning about the world, art, history, space? Yes! Yes! Yes! It wasn’t hard to determine that such a way of being was something to emulate. I wanted to be happy too!
Now, Dad had, by the time I came around, started to wane in his religiosity. And, as it turns out, that, too, I am actually thankful for. Because I felt something was missing. And I wanted it, and since my parents didn’t impose anything on me, I was free to pursue it on my own. I did so until I found, after much trial and error, the thing that was right for me, the restored Gospel.
My teen years found me underappreciating the amazing gifts both my parents provided, but thankfully, by assignment, I got past that. My freshman religion teacher at BYU challenged us to go home over Christmas break and every night before bed, seek out each parent and tell him or her, “I love you.” I was so alarmed at the thought of doing that, but I accepted the challenge. And much to my surprise, instead of being annoyed that I was interrupting his evening study (without fail Dad spent every evening in his bedroom office), Dad was tenderly delighted.
Only a handful of years later, when I was 22, I went to his room once again where he had read to us about Pooh and Piglet all those years before. This time, in the same bed, he was in the final stages of being consumed with cancer, probably the last day before he slipped into a coma. I talked to him about this and that, about his longtime friend, Charlie Taylor, who was on a deep sea fishing trip. When Mom came into the room a few minutes later, she asked what we were talking about. I said, “Charlie Taylor’s fishing trip.”
Dad, however, with his last bit of mortal strength, reached over and took my hand and sputtered out, “She told me she loves me.”
That is what mattered to him.
I closed his eyes on this physical world a few days later. These are the sweet memories I have had the blessing to carry with me throughout the remainder of my life.
Daddy wasn’t perfect. But all that is left for me in that regard is always knowing he loved me, and, gratefully, knowing HE knew I loved him. And I still do.