Nathan Tanner

My two most frightening moments as a father

Just a few days ago, my wife and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our family. Everything went well. Both the doctor and nurses were great, and our two older kids are thrilled to have a baby sister. We feel very blessed.

During a quiet moment at the hospital, while my wife and newborn were resting, I reflected on many of the experiences I’ve had as a father. Some memories were of joyous occasions, while others were alarming. Two of the more frightening experiences came to mind.

Locked in the car

The first moment happened almost five years ago. One Saturday morning I was babysitting watching my daughter while my wife attended a women’s event. After making breakfast and getting dressed, we headed to a children’s park near our house. I found an open spot and parked the car. Still in our seats, I leaned back and handed the keys to my daughter. She loved playing with car keys, and I wanted her to have a moment of fun as I got her out. I opened my door, and walked to the other side of the car. As I reached for the door handle, I heard a sharp clicking sound. I shuddered, knowing exactly what had happened.

Somehow she had pressed the door lock button. She was inside the car, holding the keys, and the doors were locked. I was standing outside the car, with no keys, looking inside. Not knowing what just happened, she was smiling at me, jangling the keys in her hand. I smiled back at her, but I was filled with terror. I immediately called my wife but she didn’t pick up. I looked back in the car and saw my daughter drop the keys. Any chance of her magically unlocking the doors was gone.

I quickly ran through a few options in my head. I could wait patiently for my wife to call me back and hope she was carrying an extra car key. Or I could call roadside assistance and have them open the door. Both options would take time.

I started running. Our apartment was only a quarter-mile from the park. I thought I knew where we kept a spare key, and I was pretty sure I left the door unlocked. I ran as fast as I could, leaving my one-year-old by herself. I couldn’t get inside the car, and I prayed that no one else would either.

I reached my apartment, threw the door open, quickly found the spare key, and ran back to the park. On my return, I opened the car door just as my daughter started crying. Completely out of breath, I took her in my arms and repeatedly apologized. We were both crying. We walked over to the swings and as I pushed her, the tears quickly turned to smiles. Gratitude and relief overcame me.

Wake up, it’s time to go

The second moment came a few years later. My wife woke me around 4:00 AM and told me we needed to go to the hospital. Nine months pregnant, she had started having steady contractions after I had gone to bed. After laboring most of the night, she was ready to have the baby.

I quickly got dressed, pulled our sleeping daughter from her bedroom, and jumped in the car. Our friends lived around the corner, and they had agreed to watch our girl while we went to the hospital. In less than a minute I was on their doorstep, pounding for them to open up. No response. “This is not going well,” I muttered under my breath. “This is not going well,” my daughter repeated in her cute two-year-old voice, almost parrot-like.

Filled with panic, I knew if I didn’t hurry, my wife would be having the baby in our apartment. We got back in the car and drove to another friend’s house. When he opened the door, I gave him a quick update and asked if he could watch our daughter. He agreed, so I gently nudged her inside, handed him the car seat, and bolted back to the car.

I found my wife kneeling on the floor, moaning in pain. “My water broke,” she said. “We better hurry.” Moments later I was back in the car, this time headed to the hospital. It was still dark outside and there were few cars on the road. I treated the stop lights like stop signs, only pausing to look both ways before proceeding. It felt like a movie scene, and I was running on pure adrenaline.

We headed to Stanford Hospital, just a few minutes from our place, but in my panic, I made a wrong turn. After flipping a u-turn, I was back on track, or so I thought. We pulled up to the front of a hospital building. My wife cried, “No! This isn’t it! This isn’t it!”

At this point, I really was lost. Needing directions, I ran inside and yelled, “My wife is about to have a baby, where is labor and delivery!? But the building was completely empty. Back in the car, with my wife in even more pain, I saw another building in the distance. I prayed it was the right one.

As I pulled up, I read the words, Labor & Delivery. Hallelujah. I grabbed a wheelchair, helped my wife into it, and wheeled her inside. “She’s having the baby right now, where should we go!?” I screamed. A nurse directed us to a delivery room where my wife was quickly surrounded by medical staff. I collapsed into the bedside chair. We had made it.

There was no time for any pain medication, and less than 30 minutes after arriving at the hospital, we were holding our second child. The feeling of panic had been replaced by an overwhelming rush of pure joy.

These experiences pale in comparison to what many parents endure, but I’m thankful for these moments and the perspective they provide. They’ve given me an added sense of gratitude for all the times things went right. I’m grateful for my family. I’m grateful I’m a father. And I’m grateful for the softening filter of experience that allows me to look back on these moments and laugh.