August 12, 2011 by Kat Richter
The morning of my 26th birthday found me sitting in my favorite coffee shop, drinking an iced chai and attempting to write but seeing as Date #7 hadn’t bothered to wish me a happy birthday, I was—I’m both ashamed and embarrassed to admit— rather preoccupied.
My cousin-in-law, who I’ve only met once in my life, managed to wish me a happy birthday.
My high school sweetheart, who has since gotten married, managed to wish me a happy birthday.
Even Date #6 texted me (although, in all fairness, we did go out for lunch on Wednesday and I did get rather trashed because I take my duties in restaurant-sampling quite seriously. As such, the contents of said text were less “Happy Birthday” and more “Did you get home okay?” followed by a stern “Do NOT drunk dial Date #7!”)
Obviously, being a rational 26 year old, I blame my dad. My dad missed my very first birthday—as in, he missed the actual birth of his first child—so clearly it’s his fault that I have such terrible luck with men so far as birthday wishes are concerned.
Unlike Date #7, however, my dad has a good excuse. It’s a rather cute story, actually, so when one of my readers inquired about “Chauffer’s” whereabouts on the day of my birth, he offered to tell the story– enjoy!
August 10, 1985
(As told by my dad)
In 1985, I was Captain of a ship called the Manhattan Island in the Gulf of Mexico. I had planned to be home for a month— two weeks before Kat’s “due to arrive” date until two weeks after— but Kat, always one to make an entrance, arrived an entire three weeks early.
So it was a Saturday night, near midnight, when I was summoned to the bridge of the ship for a message from the office. Mind you, in 1985 there were no cell phones and no internet; communications were over a radio and everyone— and I do mean everyone— could hear the entire conversation.
The office told me to call home, not to worry (yeah, like that was gonna happen) but my wife was in labor. So I made the radio call to New Hampshire where we lived at the time and sure enough, “Landlord” was in labor. She was cool and on top of it as always (she had become accustomed to me being away and we’d invited a family friend to attend Lamaze classes with us just in case) and assured me there was no reason to worry— except for the fact that I wanted to be in New Hampshire, not on a ship in the Gulf of Mexico.
Trying to offer encouragement, I assured her I would get home as soon as was humanly possible and only very narrowly avoided telling her, “Go ahead and have the baby if you have to. Don’t try to hold it and wait for me.” Having uttered a number of dumb things over the years (and having gotten a lot of grief from my family over this), I am very glad that I kept that particular thought to myself.
Then, as I couldn’t leave the ship until my relief arrived, I did what I could: I drank a six pack with the Chief Engineer.
I got periodic reports throughout the day on August 11th. My relief was from Cape Cod and moved about as fast as… well not at all fast. He couldn’t get a flight until later that evening and I was a wreck: pacing, fidgeting and watching the clock.
The Chief Engineer kept asking me to help him with all sorts of projects that didn’t actually require my help, just to keep me occupied. He too had missed the birth of his oldest (which may explain why he and his wife went on to have four more to make up for it). Calls from the hospital came occasionally but both the delivery and my relief’s progress seemed to be standing still.
Finally I got the call: I had a daughter. Once again, the call had come over the radio so everyone could hear. The crew members demanded to know what time Kat had been born so I asked “Landlord” and she replied, “Quarter past four… something like that.”
But this wasn’t good enough for the crew; they needed the exact time, which turned out to be 4:16pm. Only later did I learn why this information was so important.
I was Captain on the Manhattan Island but I was also the youngest person on board. The other professional seamen were guys that fit every sailor stereotype you can imagine. Some were WW2 veterans (one had had a ship sunk from under him) and this was early during the Reagan administration; unions were only just beginning to lose their clout and the old timers would put up with no B.S. This was also pre-Exxon Valdez, so although alcohol was not allowed, it was certainly tolerated.
After Kat was born one of my favorite shipmates, Tom Jones (we had a Jimmy Stewart on board too), gave me a congratulatory hug and said, “Now Cap, you know we have no alcohol on this vessel, but if you would like, I’ll bring a bottle of Johnny Walker to dinner for a toast to your daughter.”
During dinner, I learned why it had been so important to know the exact time of Kat’s birth. Seamen, you see, will bet on anything and they had a pool for the exact time of her arrival. The winner collected half of the pool ($150 if I remember) and the other half was given to Kat as a savings bond form the crew of the Manhattan Island.
I was really touched—I did not want to be there at all that day but these guys had made it as bearable and special for me as they could.
—So that’s the reason that my dad missed my birth. Having spent time amongst my dad’s shipmates over the years, the last part always cracks me up—the thought of a bunch of weathered, tobacco-spitting seamen taking bets on the birth of a baby girl! But this is hardly the end of the story. Oh no. It gets better, because mind you—at this point, my dad is still stuck in the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll post the second half tomorrow (seeing as I’ll be hung over and either on my way to Pittsburgh or too devastated about not being on my way to Pittsburgh to put together a coherent sentence). Get ready for a cameo appearance from my skunk-loving, cat mobile-building Abuelo, a band of Jehovah’s Witnesses and one heck of a travel story.