It’s been over a decade that I’ve been called … dad.
ASTORIA, NYC- Eleven years ago yesterday I looked down at a little head that was poking out looking up at me:
10:00 AM August 11, 2009
“Come on Chaya, you are doing so well! You can do it, baby! Push, push, push!”
It was a call and response sort of cheer. The three midwifes, Chaya’s mother and father, and myself would give a cheer, and Chaya would the accompany us with a chorus of contraction accented grunts and screams.
In the midst of it all I looked at my wife, she looked at me. . . and smiled. A quiet moment passed as we looked into each other’s eyes. Then the moment was broken as soon as it began.
Chaya screamed again and the cheering resumed.
I could only wonder what the people in the streets must have been thinking. Chaya was giving birth right behind four wide open windows that were but a half score of feet away from the sidewalk in a moderately populated neighborhood. Any strolling spectator could have been privy to the great game that was taking place within our living room.
With one more heave and a parting ho she was out. She was gross and slimy and her head had the texture of day-old macaroni and cheese, but she was mine. I just became the most ordinary and extraordinary thing a dude can be: a dad.
It could be said that Petra Hendela Adara Shepard won the weird lottery when she was projected out upon that floor in Bangor. She was born to become a traveling kid. She would go out and experience the world, learn languages, and live in a multitude of cultures. At six weeks old, my wife stuffed her into a baby carrier like luggage and off she went. It seemed normal to me then. I didn’t think that we were doing something obtuse or heroic.
However, I probably have to add here that I didn’t know of any other life — I’d been on the road for decade at that point, and sleeping in a tent on the side of the road and making money as an independent travel blogger seemed like perfectly normal things. In my lo-fi take on life, it didn’t seem like that much more extreme to travel with a baby in tow.
In El Salvador when Petra was six months.
She rode across the USA before she was two months old. She got her first passport stamp in the Dominican Republic at three months. Her first words were in Spanish. She took her first steps in Mexico. She ate her first solid food in El Salvador. Got her first amoebas in Central America. Learned to speak fluent Mandarin in China. Climbed her first mountain in Lianyungang. Got her first mohawk in Malaysia. Started her first blog in Greece. Went to her first Bills game in the Meadowlands.
Our ignorance when we first started out was really something special. It enabled us to do things we probably wouldn’t have done with more time and experience. My wife and I were still young enough then to want to go out and prove society wrong, and there’s something in this that deserves appreciation in retrospect.
Petra on top of the first mountain she climbed in Lianyungang.
Today, Petra is eleven years old. She’s a real person. She reads adult books, speaks more eloquently than me, and loves nothing more than to call someone on their shit. She no longer just absorbs what’s going on around her; no, she actively processes it and spits out what she thinks. There comes a point when your kids become intellectual two way streets, and that’s where you need to sit back and just marvel at the people they’ve become.
My wife had to work yesterday so it was up to me to provide Petra with a birthday.
“What do you want to do? We can do anything you want?” I asked her when she woke up at 6:30 am.
She handed me a list:
- Swimming at the pool / the beach
- The zoo
- Surprise mommy and Rivvy at school
- Check if I’m tall enough to sit in the front seat
- Become a dragon
- Love my family
- Go on an adventure!
We went to Jones Beach. It’s around a half hour drive away, right past LGA and JFK. It’s a legit beach, with miles of open sand, cleanish water, and other things to do besides cook in the sun. We swam — sometimes attacking the waves, sometimes getting pummeled by them. We threw around a football. We built a sand volcano (which we named after her mother).
We then drove back into the city, rinsed the sand off us, and then went to Bareburger — Petra’s current favorite restaurant (we don’t eat out often). Then I decided that I would top that off by taking her to this place around the corner that’s known for its crazy milkshakes. She got something called a Fluffalupogus. Yes, fluffernutter, a peanut butter cup, peanut butter chips, caramelized popcorn on top of a chocolate shake. She pounded it.
After that there was one more thing that she really wanted: another mohawk.
Long-term readers of this blog will remember Petra’s first foray into the mohawk:
So I gave her a mohawk.
Then her mother and sister returned from school and it was normal birthday time.
It’s crazy how little appreciation parents need to be shown to feel ecstatic. Just a few sweet words do it. For example, “Thank you so much, daddy, this was the best birthday ever.”
So it’s been eleven years. This blog is 15 years old. VagabondJourney.com is 13. Most of my writing career has been as a dad. I’ve been to 63 new countries since then. I guess I was sort of right all those years ago when I didn’t have a clue what the fuck I was talking about.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3679 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii