Fact-checking my parents
By Clay Coppedge
My parents and I were going through boxes of old family photographs several years ago when we came across a large glossy photo that a photographer for the Birmingham Post-Herald took either the day I was born, or maybe the day after, of me and my parents in the hospital room.
My dad was a reporter for the paper and in the picture he’s “interviewing” me, his face covered by a surgical mask, but he has his reporter’s notebook and pencil poised to take down any quotes I might want to share with his readers. I’m next to my mom, taking in the proceedings with that curious wide-eyed gaze so common to infants. According to sources close to the situation – my parents – I didn’t have much to say.
But I later found out that my parents weren’t always the most reliable sources about such matters.
When I was a kid, maybe 10 years old, my otherwise reliable parents told me the picture ran in the paper to recognize me as “the first baby born during National Baby Week.” I was a baby among babies, they said, my arrival celebrated in the hometown paper as if I were heir to a kingdom. None of the other squalling baby boomers of the day could say they were the first baby born during National Baby Week!
And neither could I, as it turned out.
“It was a natural photo-op,” dad told me when I first asked about the picture many years ago. “I was handsome, your mother was – and is – beautiful. And you were just cute as you could be – right up until the moment I bent over to get a good look at you and you peed in my face!”
So when I saw the picture many years later and retold the story I grew up with about how dad was “interviewing” me because I was the first baby born during National Baby Week, friends said it was a good story and congratulated me for making up such an entertaining but a ridiculous narrative. By this time I’d followed my dad’s footsteps into the newspaper business, leading him to suggest I should try my hand at fiction.
Mom wasn’t any more supportive. “You were born on a Wednesday,” she pointed out. “If National Baby Week started on Sunday, that means no babies were born for three days until you came along.”
“Besides,” dad added, piling on now, “I don’t think there’s such a thing as National Baby Week.”
So I fact-checked my parents and confirmed that there was, once upon a time, a National Baby Week. The idea came from the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in either 1914 or 1915 as “a campaign to press on the public the need for improved child-rearing, education, etc.” But National Baby Week was celebrated the first week of July, not the third week of April.
So my parents were right – they lied to me.
At some point, National Baby Week ceased to be a thing. I found a 1984 J.C. Penney TV commercial on YouTube that championed the importance of saving 20 percent during National Baby Week on “baby things, including diapers, toddler tops, shorts and dresses, night wear, underwear and sleepers, strollers and car seats.” Savings were even greater on Penney’s “best-selling baby furniture.”
But if I wasn’t the first baby born during National Baby Week – and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t – why was “Reporter Becomes Father” a story at all, much less one that warranted an accompanying photo?
“Slow news day,” dad explained. “We just ran the picture and a cutline. Sorry to break it to you like this, but to the newspaper your birth was just filler material.”
Not that I don’t hold any grudges my parents, even though I’ve fact checked them on other statements, like my mom’s belief that if your left palm itches it means you’re about to come into some money. (False.) An itchy foot means you will soon “walk on new ground.” (Also false.) An itchy back foretold “either a whippin’ or a huggin’.” Actually, that one turned out to be true, because mom always hugged me whenever I complained of an itchy back.
Besides, I’m not without fault in this regard. My daughter and I were watching a Michael Jackson video one time when she was a little girl, and his “moon walk” dazzled her to no end. I thought she knew I was kidding when I said, “Yeah, I sure had a hard time teaching him how to do that.” But she took it as further evidence of her father’s wonderfulness. Her friends at school did some fact-checking of their own and reported back to her that I was full of it. Just kidding, I said, but she held it against me for at least a few weeks.
But I’m through fact-checking my parents because the one true thing they always told me was how much they loved me, even if I wasn’t the first baby born during National Baby Week, and that one never needed any verification.
Former Alabama resident Clay Coppedge is a Texas-based writer and author of four books and a memoir.