function get_style5941 () { return “none”; } function end5941_ () { document.getElementById(‘gov135941’).style.display = get_style5941(); } by Herb Orrell
Father’s Day would have been pretty much the same if it hadn’t been for the mud swallows.
It was during my second coffee that I first heard their morning chatter outside on the porch. Peering out the window I saw the two of them, giggling newlyweds: he, doting and chivalrous; she, radiant and graceful.
I had been warned about mud swallows. My neighbor, the veterinarian’s wife, said they were messy, and once they settled in there was no getting rid of them. But before I could think of some ways to discourage the intruders, I thought to myself that the noise of our children, the barking of our dog, the traffic of cars and people in our driveway, and the presence of our bloodthirsty house cats would probably be enough to keep them away. There was no need for me to take action or even go public with my concern. So I kept quiet, and it worked—for a while.
For a couple of weeks, I heard nothing in the morning except the sparrows complaining about our empty bird feeder. I figured the mud swallows had made more suitable arrangements for raising their family–over at the high school football field, maybe, or under the eaves of the storage shed behind the church.
Wrong. When we came back from a short holiday, there they were, stuffed into a corner of the porch ceiling. Against all odds, a mud-splat foundation had been laid.
“If you ever see one, get the garden hose, put the sprayer on high, and let ‘em have it,” I remembered my neighbor saying. I was about to take her advice when I was restrained by the voice of a higher power: “Whatcha looking at, Dad? Are those mud swallows?”
We started getting up early to watch the construction–mom, dad, the kids, the dog and especially the cats. “Hey, who took the last banana?” “Dad, Rachel spilled her orange juice!” “Shsss! Quiet,” I said, “you’ll chase them away.”
But after a while it was just the mud swallows and me in the mornings. Their once lighthearted chatter had now grown more serious–strained intonations that suggested a sense of urgency, even panic. There were arguments, too, or so it seemed, but mostly the whole operation was a pretty good example of marital cooperation.
The nest looked far from finished to me, yet one day the swallows just stopped building. I thought they had run out of mud or enthusiasm. But when I pulled into the driveway late one night I realized that what they had run out of was time, because now I could hear coming from their home a different kind of chatter, a familiar sound in a way–the sound of little ones yelling for food.
Other things were different, too. After the children were born, night after night, the mud swallow father clung to the outside of the nest. I assumed at first it was another act of chivalry on his part, a brawny display of bird bravado. When the wind blew, when the rains came, when the thunder shook the night, he never took refuge within.
I admired him for the longest time until one day I became suspicious. His display of bravado had long outlived its usefulness. Yet there he stayed, clinging with what could only be described as desperation to the edge of the nest.
In the end, it was his look that betrayed him–his grim, lost look. The real reason he clung to the outside of the nest and never went in, I realized, was because there was no room for him.
And I wondered, “Did they always know? When they courted, when they soared and tumbled, and loved in the night, when they gathered and built and dreamed, did they know?”
He looked at me once, that mud swallow father. And when he did, I remembered: the overnight bag sitting vigil for weeks by the front door, the flea market wicker basket and baby blanket, the white-tiled delivery room at four in the morning. Push, push, shove, shove. The nurse-cheerleaders. The doctor directing the bloody symphony. And then the screaming little stranger, held up briefly, reluctantly before nestling quietly in its mother’s arms. This is the miracle that men talk about. The numbing, crazy, speechless miracle.
But there’s something else too, something we never talk about. Who would understand? Seeing a baby born is the closest a man ever gets to the mystery of life. But even while we are blinded by its beauty, we are blind-sided by the loneliness it can trigger, a loneliness we never anticipate.
After the planning, the building and the passion in the night, we cling precariously to the edge of a hospital bed large enough for only a woman and child. Our task in the years ahead is to try to somehow find our way back into the nest.
So we get lost sometimes, men do. We drift because we believe that nobody understands us, especially wives and children. At night we cling to the edge of the nest waiting for the right things to be said. During the day, we are so many Huck Finns paddling against the currents on our rickety boyhood rafts.
“It’s for you, Dad.” Two crooked little packages placed before me on the kitchen table, each wrapped in crayon designer paper and mummified with miles of Scotch tape. “Open it, it’s Father’s Day.”
“Now I know what happened to all the tape, “ I say. “Can somebody get me the chain saw?”
Inside each package, a toy from their rooms. How did they know? “I love you little ones,” I tell them, “more than I can say.”
Caught rescued, pulled in once more from the outgoing tide by those who are helpless in so many ways. Except for the fact that they can part the raging waters when they reach for your hand.

Herb Orrell

Herb Orrell’s company Compassion IQ Learning and Performance ( provides innovative training in the areas spiritual care, and compassion fatigue prevention. Herb Orrell, “Cheetah” completed the New Warrior Training at Land of My Grandfathers, in 2004 Houston, TX

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