A Time To Listen: The Day I Became A Dad

Poet E. Ethelbert Miller, an occasional commentator on Weekend Edition Sunday, recently sat down with his daughter, Jasmine Simone Miller, for the National Day of Listening project, an effort to encourage people over Thanksgiving to sit down with a loved one and listen. They talk about the day Ethelbert found out he was going to be a father.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

You've heard E. Ethelbert Miller on this program before as a poet and commentator. Today, you'll hear from him as a father. He recently sat down with his daughter for the National Day of Listening Project. It's an effort to encourage people over Thanksgiving to sit down with a loved one and listen. Jasmine Simone Miller wanted to ask Ethelbert about the day he found out he was going to be a father.

Mr. E. ETHELBERT MILLER (Poet): My job consists of the phone ringing a lot. And I remember the phone rang - and this is before cell phones, so there's no caller ID and the face shows up - and she said, well, guess what, daddy? You know, I immediately went into shock. You know, it's like all of a sudden it hits you. Like, I'm a father, you know?

And the night you were born, back then we lived in the duplex - it's two levels. So, your mother was upstairs in the bedroom. Just getting her down the steps, you know, to the next level was a job, OK. All those little exercises that they taught you...

Ms. JASMINE SIMONE MILLER: Lamaze classes? Yeah.

Mr. MILLER: You know, it's like somebody drops you off in Iraq or Afghanistan with a gun. You know, you don't know what to do. And what happened, there's nobody in the hospital. And the woman said we don't know if we can, you know, she's not dilated, so will we admit her? What are you talking about? I just got her here. There is no way we are going back home, you know.

And so I always remember the joke was they'd tell me to go get ready because I wanted to be there, you know, in the room when you were born. And so they would say, oh, go in the room and put this on. So, I'm in there, like, you know, taking all my underwear and stuff off.

Ms. MILLER: This is the gown?

Mr. MILLER: Yeah, but I'm taking my underwear and everything off, like, you know, no germs to go in there. And it was stupid. But, you know, what happens you're being a father for the first time. So, I'm in there undressing, you know, and my job is to come out (unintelligible), you know. So, I do remember that.

Ms. MILLER: And for my name, Jasmine Simone, did you and Mom already have that picked out before I was born? Did you have a list of girl names and boy names in case I was one of each and do you remember what the boy option was?

Mr. MILLER: No, there was no boy option. What happened, you were easy, you know. I always was a Nina Simone fan - and also my brother was, who you really never met. Nobody's going to mess with you if your name was Nina Simone. I mean, Nina Simone had serious attitude. You know, and so what happened, that name, you know, is one I felt was very empowering.

The Jasmine, I think, is very important in terms of, you know, just the fragrance of the flower and I still feel that the challenge I've always faced as a writer was naming my children. And I feel that your name is like a one-line poem and that it should resonate even before somebody even meets you.

HANSEN: E. Ethelbert Miller with his daughter Jasmine Simone Miller, for the StoryCorps National Day of Listening Project.

You can find tips about how to interview a loved one at NationalDayofListening.org.

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