Ethan, our fifth grandchild and fourth grandson, was born at 3:29 a.m. Saturday

Ethan, our fifth grandchild and fourth grandson, was born at 3:29 a.m. Saturday. We were startled gladly from a sound sleep by the ringing phone, our son proudly and with no sound of fatigue in his voice announcing the birth of his first child.

Though he’s nearly in his mid-30s, it’s still hard for me to fathom that my boy — my little buddy — is now a Daddy himself. Even though it was ugly early in the morning when we received our son’s phone call, I laid awake, sleepless with memories of his life flooding my thoughts.

In the book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” author Lewis Carroll wrote, “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

I am truly a far different person — I hope a better one — because of my fatherhood, so the recollection of our son’s life may be, as Carroll suggests, of no use.

Still, what a wonderland of experiences our son will also have with his son Ethan, experiences I’m both hopeful and quite certain will be, like mine, a mixture of delight, fear, happiness, disappointment (in myself as well as in my son), pride, challenges, gratefulness, learning and contentment — all transformed over the years into a mosaic of real joy.

So even if going back to yesterday is, indeed, a waste, our son’s life rushes through my mind vividly at 4:30 a.m. like it happened yesterday.

The night of his birth in 1981, I’m both delighted and scared. His mother’s water broke late at night. Contractions are strong and coming quickly. I drive as fast as I safely can the 25 miles to the Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital where he was born, early on a frosty morn. Scores of deer stand sentinel along the long road aboard the Marine Corps base, a welcoming committee looking up as we pass by, their reflective eyes lighting the way for us.

Then I can’t help but remember asking myself the same question every parent asks themselves, “Where did all the years go?” as I choke back tears encouraging him to board his first school bus. Looking sadly back at me, he haltingly goes up the steps. He and the bus are both slowly pulling away from me.

I had to ask myself that same question again in bed as a favorite photo of him now 30 years old flashes through my mind — our little boy adorned in a too large baseball cap pulled over his ears, eyes deliciously closed, the look of sheer delight on his face after catching his first football. Where do the years go? The days are long but the years? They are truly short.

Laying there wide awake, memoires flicker of the challenges of single fatherhood and the resultant mistakes and omissions I made, and the learning and togetherness we shared. I remembered the fear from the diagnosis of an inoperable nerve tumor in his leg and our military medivac flight from duty overseas to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington. And then relief and gratefulness for the tumor’s miraculous shrinkage and disappearance months later.

Tossing and turning, I recalled the pride I felt at his Parris Island recruit graduation parade. And then the disappointment of his flunking out of college — the pain of applying parental tough love — the happiness of his recovery from mistakes, and satisfaction at his ultimate graduation from college and successfully landing his first, real, civilian job.

And then fear again flashes in my mind. I relive the phone call every parent dreads: there’s been a motorcycle accident. Severe injuries, hospitalization, surgery, and — ultimately — blessed recovery.

Memories of happiness for my son light up the room. Rolling over and fluffing my pillow, the beautiful girl he has fallen in love with and his vineyard marriage to her in the hills of Virginia come to mind. Visions of Ethan, my own son’s barely three-hour-old son, dance in my head.

After lying awake for several hours, I eventually drift off to a peaceful sleep for a short while. I’m awakened to a feeling of contentment. The ups and downs, the highs and lows of my son’s life form a colorful montage. And though I’m different and so can’t go back to yesterday, sharing the mosaic of his life is a joy I would not trade for anything.

I hope our son can say the same thing about his son Ethan in 35 years.

Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at