We did almost everything wrong, right from the start. My husband landed in Managua in the middle of a huge international dispute — appearing in Nicaragua to bring home our new son, Nelson Ernesto Bravo, the same day in 1986 as Gene Hasenfuss, a CIA operative was shot down and taken prisoner by the Sandinistas. A communication screw-up meant that no one was at the airport to meet him so while several soldiers holding AK-47s watched, he nervously dialed our contact’s number until finally a car was sent for him. The lack of a finalized visa meant that he had to crawl over and around U.S. Marines and the Sandinista Army facing off at the American Embassy days later – being one of the last people in the Embassy before it was closed because of the growing conflict about the Hasenfuss case.
All the while, Howard, whose prior diapering experience had been with a teddy bear we used as a teaching tool at home in Milwaukee, was on the fast track of learning how to be a dad to Nelson, a 21-month old, very sick, but extremely handsome little boy. He flew back to the States with Nelson, feeding him a dinner roll and not much else, and putting liquid Tylenol in his ear (yes, in his ear) when he seemed to have an earache. We’d only gotten as far as the diaper changing in Howard’s home instruction – hadn’t covered Tylenol administration yet.
Anyway, Howard missed his connecting flight in Memphis (because he was changing a diaper oddly enough) and ended up being the last person off a midnight plane, carrying a sleepy, incredibly thin, and very grey baby. Here came my husband walking down the long hallway of Terminal C with Nelson on one arm, a bag over his shoulder, and triumph in his eyes.
I realized right then that if Howard never did another thing in his life, if he never remembered my birthday or our anniversary or mowed the lawn or paid the mortgage, if he never worked another day or decided to become a forest ranger, it didn’t matter. He had just made us parents when everyone said it was impossible. And he has been golden to me from that night to this minute.