A Choking Baby and a Faking Father

First parenting scare tests a father’s cool and blesses his marriage

Not all lies and misrepresentations are created equal. When my 8-month-old son attempted to swallow a random object he found on our living room floor, I held him with a steady hand and spoke in a calm and deliberate cadence to my wife. She identified the object in the back of his throat as a leaf.

Of all the things to give new parents their very first choking scare, ours was a goddamn leaf, probably carried in on one of our shoes.

My wife’s second and third attempts to sweep the leaf out with her finger failed and Gabe vomited in a way I hadn’t seen from him, and haven’t since. At this point I could have won an Oscar for my portrayal as a calm and confident father. Inside, I was scared shitless and could hardly move, but the character I was playing – this “Dad” who is more believable in print – would never get rattled in front of his son.

Should you find yourself in a similar situation – your child chokes and the only useful ability you possess is bullshitting those around you in hopes your soothing disposition facilitates the appropriate action – I pray you are also married to a nurse. Summer was amazing; she persevered through the failed finger sweeps and heartbreaking vomit, grabbed a pen light, tongue depressor, sterilized tweezers and calmly removed the leaf in no time.

And scene.

The moment my wife pulled the leaf from Gabe’s mouth he flashed his giant toothless smile as though seconds earlier he had not projectile vomited spaghetti-flavored baby food onto my chest as his body fought to reject the foreign object stuck in his throat.

I, on the other hand, dropped the tough guy act, sat down, and cried.

Maybe it was the feeling of helplessness or the fear. Maybe it was all the news coverage of murdered children finally hitting me through a tangible example of what losing my own son might look like. These emotions hit me the second I realized my son was in danger. Holding it in and covering with false bravado in the moment, only seemed to elevate the degree to which it poured out after the fact.

So, why fake it?

Certain childhood memories impact your actions as a parent. Not in the sense they shape you as a person and subconsciously impact your behavior, but in ways so profound you process the memory in real-time with your mind racing in the face of adversity. The most terrifying thing in childhood is identifying fear in a parent.

There are numerous resources detailing the appropriate process in the event of a choking baby. In hindsight, familiarizing myself with infant and child CPR would have been a greater calming agent than relying on a spouse in the health field. Instead, as my son began to choke, the best help I could offer was to conceal my fear and tell what I hoped wouldn’t turn out to be a total lie.

“It’s going to be okay.”

When the close call ended, along with my inclination to keep up the façade, my wife was surprised by how rattled I became. She tried to pick me up by saying my demeanor helped her remain calm and she couldn’t have done it without me.

Not all lies and misrepresentations are created equal. Hers immediately made me feel better about myself.

—Photo by dok1/Flickr

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About Blake Friis

Blake is a writer and first-time father living in Dallas, TX. When not pushing a stroller aimlessly around Target or cowering in fear of a baby, he is documenting those misadventures at Pureed Green Beans and Whiskey. You can follow Blake on Twitter at @BlakeFriis.

Comments

  1. First time for me was at a birthday party and my toddler swallowed a grape. We always cut them–at my wife’s fearful insistence–but this one passed the goalie. Wife was at work. Still don’t know if she knows this one. Slow motion terror. The boy shot it like a meteor across the room, right over the birthday kid’s head. Still makes my heart drop. Thanks for jarring the memory.

  2. RIchard Aubrey says:

    My son got a piece of meat crossways in his throat, and was turning blue. He was in the later part of the high-chair period, whatever age that is.
    I gave him a calm, measured two-fingered poke under the sternum and that cleared everything up. I found the meat stuck to the wall across the kitchen. He wasn’t injured.
    My concern is that I might have injured him. I can fix choking. I can’t fix a perforated liver. Note to self, be cooler.

    • Hey, whatever works. I would love to be cooler, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards when it comes to my son. In fact, I feel myself getting less cool with every passing day…

  3. RIchard Aubrey says:

    Blake.
    That’s nice, when it doesn’t count.
    When it counts, being robot-cold might be the difference. In my century, the last one, that was considered a virtue.

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