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Centre Daily Times
Will Ortega: New Dad Smoothly Handles Transition
By Lara Brenckle
June 15, 2003
Will Ortega knows this much is true.
You can read all the books, study every pamphlet and parenting magazine available and still nothing completely prepares you for the happy, messy, sleeplessly wonderful experience of becoming a father for the first time.
Antonio Omar Ortega, all 5 pounds, 7 1/2 ounces of him, entered this world May 30. He has his father's middle and last names, his nose, and both his parents' hopes for the future.
Today, Ortega celebrates his first Father's Day, two weeks and two days after the event he calls "an indescribable miracle."
There is plenty for a new dad to come to terms with these days -- increased expectations of a man's role in parenting, the state of the world, teeny buttons on an infant outfit.
Even before Antonio's birth, this was a year of transition for the 29-year-old student programming coordinator for Penn State's residence life department and his wife, Nicole Griffin, a higher-education graduate student.
The couple, who met at Richard Stockton College in New Jersey, moved to State College in August and found out Griffin was pregnant in October. Later this summer, they hope to move into an on-campus apartment bigger than the one they now occupy in Thompson Hall.
Instead of planning trips to Ortega's native Puerto Rico, lingering dinners out and intense gym sessions, these days his world revolves around 2 a.m. feedings and endless diaper changes. The trade, Ortega said, is one he made gladly.
"I got up this morning and realized everything is going to change," Ortega said on his first full day at home with his son, the hospital identification bracelet still tagged to the tiny wrist.
In those first bleary-eyed days, Ortega wondered at the sheer amount of energy, comfort, affection and attention his son needed right out of the womb.
That same evening, Griffin fell asleep nursing the little boy whom Ortega affectionately calls "papito," Spanish for "little son." Trying to be helpful, he attempted to put Antonio to bed.
The "full-alarm, THX surround-sound crying" began almost instantly.
"I looked like a clown down here," Ortega laughed, shaking his head. "I was jumping around, doing exercises, I changed his clothes and his diaper twice. Everything worked for about five minutes, then he'd grab me, shake his head side to side and once he closed his eyes, that was it, here it comes, daddy."
As it turned out, the baby had not finished nursing and was still hungry.
"That's why you need to have constant communication with your partner," he said.
Sharing is natural to the man who lived in a two-bedroom apartment with the mother who raised him and his two sisters. So is bonding over shared interests. After all, it was his father who brought the magic of Detroit Motown to Ortega's island childhood.
What he didn't learn, he made up for in research. A well-thumbed copy of "What to Expect When You're Expecting," the new "What to Expect In the First Year" and dozens of magazines with smiling infants on the cover attest to how much homework the couple did prior to Antonio's birth.
The resources were helpful but, as Ortega is learning, they don't have all the answers.
Still, they were learning quickly. Their deftness with their new charge was already apparent Tuesday as Griffin handed a freshly fed Antonio to Daddy for a burp. With his arm bent in a preternaturally crooked position, he tapped his son's back until the baby fell asleep. The feat accomplished, he handed papito back to Mommy and stretched the kink out of his back.
Griffin, 23, said her definition of a good father is one who gets up to quiet the baby when mom needs sleep and is interactive and willing to give unconditional love and sacrifice.
Does Ortega fit the bill?
"Oh my goodness, yes," Griffin said with a wide smile.
Communication is definitely a part of new fatherhood, but so is the occasional reality check.
Case in point: buying the stroller.
Ortega said he was initially "all about the Eddie Bauer one with leather interior." But when he realized it was about three times heavier and more expensive than the Graco they eventually settled on, function won out over funky.
The best surprises, though, come in the slow evolution of the black-haired, black-eyed little boy's personality. He hates baths, Ortega said, and loves riding in the car. He makes a panting noise when he wakes up that is different from the snuffling noises he makes when he's dreaming.
"With each child, there is a grander and better future," Ortega said. "We could really have something here. If he's interested, I think about getting him into Little League, playing video games with Mommy and Daddy. I'm curious to see how things turn out. I don't have a crystal ball, but I'm eager."
He is so eager to begin explaining the wonders of Antonio's Latino-African-American heritage, Ortega has already started speaking Spanish to him.
Still, Ortega said they are also trying to savor the days of their son's infancy because they know it will never return. And even with the at least three siblings they want to eventually add to their family, Ortega knows each child will be a different experience.
There also are the more serious aspects of parenting. When they find a new apartment, Ortega said, he's doing a "full security sweep of the place." And, with a laugh, he declares he and Griffin are going to "look at a few resumes" before they let anyone outside the family baby-sit.
A larger maturity
That march toward a larger maturity began the day Ortega felt his son kick against his wife's stomach; it intensified when the tiny boy took his first breath.
"My biggest challenge is to not overworry," he said. "You can really stress yourself out worse by worrying about it."
That stress, though, can melt away at his son's touch.
When it was time to change Antonio's diaper late Tuesday, more than a week after they'd brought him home, Ortega again showed he'd mastered the task.
"Hey, papito," he cooed, placing his son on the pink-padded changing table. "Hey, Bubba, what's wrong?"
As Ortega proclaimed the need for a "federal mandate against buttons on baby clothes," Antonio wailed with the indignity of being changed, his tiny brown hand trying to push away the larger, gentle one working to get the buttons down.
"Hon, there's snaps on the bottom," Griffin said gently.
"Oh ..." he said before setting to work again.
Carefully, Ortega diapered his squalling son and cleaned the area around Antonio's umbilical cord.
"You're the boss, OK?" he said, snapping him back into a khaki safari outfit. "We all recognize that, really."