There haven’t been many graduations in my life that came with a red ribbon, but the recent birthday of my oldest brought back a memory long put away. It’s a story worth telling.

She, who is younger than I am, remembers it better.

We were in love, married three years and eager to enlarge our share of the American dream. We couldn’t have a puppy in our rented apartment, but they did take small children. Case solved.

She, with her usual manic Capricorn intensity, set out about the parenthood thing as though it were a government program. She read stacks of books on childbirth and nutrition while I, cautiously looking forward to fatherhood, cheered her on.

We were fully engaged in planned parenthood, but I was an unemployed actor and she a fledgling teacher taking classes. So she made it clear that I would have to start making more money.

I took a job in a bookstore in Hollywood, where I read more books on the subject. I thought I was prepared. I was wrong. One of the books was an adult pop-up book on daddy’s role in bringing home the new baby.


Before this, I had thought that all that required was wrapping it in a blanket and hailing a cab. Once home, it was the mother’s domain. I was wrong.

Fate, in the form of a fellow actor, intervened. The late Wesley Lau, who at the time was playing Lt. Anderson on the “Perry Mason” series, was about to become a new daddy. He told me about a class one could take.

“It’s nights at the YMCA on Highland. It’s full of actors, directors and writers,” he said, “You can make some great job contacts there.” 

This was where I learned that in Hollywood, all life revolves around making contacts, getting a job, getting a better job. No matter what the occasion — birth, death, marriage, divorce — life in Hollywood began and ended with The Job.

So there I was in jeans and snappy linen jacket, sitting on an iron folding chair surrounded by other folding chairs on top of which sat struggling actors, writers and assorted sound technicians, film editors and studio gofers. 

Every television role in the business was represented. There were cowboys, detectives, dancers, taxi drivers, an Asian bartender and a rising young Mexican actor, all about to become first-time daddies. Not a director or producer in sight. Alas. I would have to be content with learning to be a father.


We were shown a half hour of short films; one, for fathers who would be participating in the process, showed an actual live birth. The cowboys didn’t come back after cigarette break.

Then each of us were handed a life-size naked baby doll and asked to line up in front of a series of folding tables outfitted with a diaper, package of pins, lotion bottle and talcum. Our tutors, two second baby-mommas, were patient, gentle and encouraging, even when the Asian bartender dropped and broke his “baby.”

I am proud to say, 47 years later, that I graduated with honors that included a certificate with attached red ribbon and my name … misspelled.

I saw Wesley only a few times after that, and sadly, he died the month we left L.A. for Maine. The rising young Mexican actor and I ran into one another months later late at night in an all-night Laundromat, as we were both washing baskets of soiled diapers. There we were, actors, daddies, comrades in arms, diaper washers — and not a producer in sight.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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