10:00pm

Thu April 21, 2011
StoryCorps

A Father And His Daughter: 'Always My Buddy'

Jennifer Wells recently asked her father to look back on the day she was born, 27 years ago — and to tell her how he felt about becoming a dad. Steven Wells started his story with, "I was scared to death."

Jennifer's mother stayed in the hospital for a week. It fell to Steven to take their new baby home and look after her.

"I mean, I'm a blue-collar kind of guy," he says. "I've worked in factories and construction; I was a firefighter — and I've got a little baby girl in the house."

Steven says he asked himself, "What am I going to do with this? I'm afraid I'm going to break it!"

Back then, he was working serious jobs. But that doesn't mean he felt ready for the new responsibility.

"I was 29 years old and acting like I was 19," Steven says. "And all of a sudden I had to grow up."

"I'm glad you didn't grow up too much," Jennifer says. "I was an only child so, you know ... you were my playmate."

"I tried to be the father to you that my father never was to me."

That was back in Ohio, where Steven, who's now 57, grew up.

"I'll never forget, when I was about 10 years old, I was asking my dad to go out and play baseball with me," he says. "And he didn't want to go out with me. And my mother started bugging him, 'Come on, Bill, go out and play with the boy!'

"And I'll never forget hearing my dad say, 'Jesus Christ, Kay! I'm the boy's father. If he wants to play with somebody, he can go up the street and play with one of the other kids.' "

Steven told himself, "I'm not going to be that kind of father."

And he played with his little girl — a lot.

"We had my old Air Force duffle bag," he says, "full of Frisbees and soccer balls, baseballs, footballs ..."

"Yes! I loved that bag!" Jennifer says.

"... and we'd drag it down to the park. You were always my buddy."

But the two didn't always live in the same house. When Jennifer was 14, her parents got a divorce. As Steve recalls, it was very hard for him to tell Jennifer about the split. At the time, they were living in Ventura, Calif.

"When I finally told you that your mother and I were breaking up, we took a walk," he says. "And I was in tears, trying to tell you that I wasn't going to be living at home anymore. And you know what you told me?

"You put your arm around me and you said, 'Dad, it's OK, lots of my friends' parents are divorced, I'll get through it. I'm worried about you.'

"You said that to me, and I've never forgotten that. You know, I loved you more than myself. And you are living proof that it was worth it."

"And I love that you stayed so close, too," Jennifer says.

Steven and Jennifer have lived in Macon, Ga., since 1996. Recently, the two were talking over lunch, and Jennifer asked her father if he had any regrets.

"And I thought about it and, you know, guilt sucks," Steven tells his daughter.

"There are things that I wish had happened differently, or things that didn't happen. But you make it all worthwhile," he says.

"Thank you," Jennifer says, laughing.

"I am honored to be your father."

"I love you."

"And I love you ... more than you will know."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo. Recorded in partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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