My son and I fought back tears a year ago on May 19, 2020, as he told me via Facetime from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills that his wife, Ashley, had given birth to a baby boy. The natural tears of joy that come at such times were mingled with tears unique to a world turned upside-down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We had already scrapped our original plans for me to visit them last Father’s Day. It had seemed such a good idea when we learned Ashley’s due date was mid-May. Then came COVID.

“Dad,” my son said on the day of his own son’s birth, “you might not see this little guy in person until his first birthday.”

That sounded preposterous, but it is exactly what happened. And even though I got to watch him dive into a slice of his birthday cake, my recent trip to Los Angeles was not without concern. Vaccines and masks notwithstanding, sitting on a plane for more than five hours these days is an unnerving experience.

But the COVID complications began before my grandson was born and were far more heart wrenching than my cancelling a trip. Michael had to wait in the car every time he drove Ashley to a doctor’s appointment and was told he could not be at her side when she delivered. It was only at the last minute that he was allowed to join her in the hospital and once he set foot in the building, he could not leave until it was time to bring mommy and baby home. That was more than fine with him.

Unlike others of their generation, Michael and Ashley did not want to know the sex of their child ahead of time. Their “reveal party” took place in the delivery room. We hadn’t discussed it in advance, but having a son means this Ackerman branch of the family tree lives on. My sisters and my daughter don’t have children named Ackerman, my brother Bill has adopted children and my brother Bob has two girls. Now there’s an Ackerman in the next generation.

Michael and Ashley chose to call their boy Malcolm purely because they love the name. Unbeknownst to them, he was born on the birthday of Malcolm X, the civil rights icon and martyr who was born in Nebraska in 1925. I see such things as affirmations, signs that you are doing something right. To my son and his wife, they are just coincidences. And that’s okay.

Before I left for Los Angeles, people kept asking what I planned to do there. After I returned, they asked what I did. My answer was the same: I did nothing.

I was not there to drive a couple of hours to Disneyland or to take in a Dodgers game. Although I packed a swimsuit, I had no interest in hitting the beach. All I wanted to do was watch my son and his wife and especially their baby live their lives. I wanted to scoop up the little tyke in his jammies when he woke up in the morning, to get down on the floor and make engine sounds with him as he pushed his toy truck around, to offer him bites of my morning banana, and to watch him play in the tub before bed.

And that’s what I did. I went on daily walks to the playground, caught him at the bottom of the sliding board, reached under furniture to retrieve the tennis ball that got away from him (and repeated it 10 times in a row when he discovered this was fun), and taught him to punch the helium balloons they got for his party.

When I first arrived, I announced to Michael and Ashley, and with much bravado, that if they had anything they needed to do, I’d be glad to mind the baby for a day. “Oh, really?” they asked, not questioning my facility at changing a diaper, but warning me that running around after him was easier said than done. I got my comeuppance the first time I was on the floor reading his “Bear Says Thank You” book when he took off for the kitchen and all the dials he dare not touch. Luckily, Michael caught up to him before he could get into any trouble. Meanwhile, I was still trying to get myself up from the floor. Lesson learned.

The little fella is all I’ve been thinking about and talking about since I got home. Now my friends keep asking when I’m going back. “Not soon enough,” I say. But before then, I have a 7-month-old grandson in Texas that I’ve yet to meet in person. I need to fly down there and do a bunch of nothing with him too.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.

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