Our 330th Dad in the Limelight is Keith Alexander. I want to thank Keith for being a part of this series. It has been great getting connected with him and now sharing him with all of you.
If you’re interested, here are the questions. Please answer them to the best of your ability:
1) Tell me about yourself
I am a single father of Hannah my 11-year old daughter. I grew up in the Humboldt Park area of Chicago in the 1970’s & 80’s. I am a third generation Artist. I recently completed a memoir entitled ”Forgery of the Month Club”. The memoir details my unconventional upbringing by my mother who was a burglar and art forger. With no one else to rely on and unaware of how to relate to my emotions, I emulated my mother, eventually moving away. When my daughter was born with serious health issues in 2001, I used what I learned growing up to shepherd Hannah through her illnesses.
2) Tell me about your family
I was divorced in 2011. My family consists of myself and my daughter Hannah Lael Marguerite. My mother is from Minneapolis. Her father, Arnie was a Jew, who was born in Latvia in 1902. In Minneapolis he became an aeronautical engineer in the 1920’s. On the paternal side of my family, my great, great grandfather was named Albert Fowler. He was a slave in Natchez, Mississippi, who joined the union army during the Civil War.
3) What has been the largest challenge you have had in being a father?
The biggest challenge came when Hannah was born in September 2001 with several health issues involving her heart, lungs, and bones. Her mother and I took Hannah home after three weeks in the NICU. After two weeks at home, we returned her to the hospital for open heart surgery. It was difficult to hand her perfect body to a total stranger, knowing that when we next saw her, she would have incisions and tubes going in and coming out of her. Because of many complications, and additional surgeries Hannah had to endure after that initial surgery, we did not bring her back home until early December 2001. From then until 2009, Hannah had a tracheostomy tube, and because of that, she was unable to cry or speak except using sign language. For eight years, ur house was filled with medical supplies, medical equipment and round the clock nursing. Before Hannah was born, there was no indication that Hannah would be anything but a healthy baby. We were caught unprepared, and my wife and I had to learn everything about nursing all at once. We were ordinary people undergoing extraordinary stress for a sustained period of time. Hannah is now in 5th grade and is learning Hebrew, and how to ride and care for horses.
4) What advice would you give to other fathers?
Learn how your mind works; become emotionally aware of what you are feeling, and understand that following one’s feelings does not always empower one to be the best father one can be. I would also suggest to fathers who are in the midst of unexpected emotional strain to take it moment by moment.
5) Seeing that you (or your position) are in the limelight, how have you come to balance parenthood and outside life? If you are currently not in the limelight per se, please still answer this in regards to how you balance parenthood and outside life.
I cherish the time I have with Hannah, and because I am a single parent, and not currently in a relationship, I devote my time when not with Hannah to our Synagogue. I find both fulfilling practically and spiritually.
6) What have you learned from the fathers that you have interacted with?
I have learned to know ones’ self emotionally; to be open to learning from my daughter as well as to be an important teacher for her; I have learned that spending unstructured time with my daughter day after day, week after week; month after month imbues in her a belief that she is important, vital and capable. The time spent with her now as she becomes a young lady creates for her what I call a spine of confidence and self-worth that will fortify and support her lifelong.
7) What else would you share regarding your experiences as a father thus far?
One afternoon Hannah’s nurse left and all the equipment had been put away. Hannah’s tracheostomy tube in her neck looked clean and snug. She and I were downstairs on the sofa looking at Fiddler on The Roof on the TV. Hannah was comfortable in her clown pajamas and bouncy chair, and she had just passed her six month birthday. She turned her head looking out the living room windows at much of the snow that had melted away. In the joy of that instant, I thought of the moments like I missed growing up with an indifferent dad. I tickled Hannah’s tummy then made a buzzing noise on her neck and she was smiling and her eyes sparkled. To give her a respite, I turned to the TV and watched while Tevya sang about tradition.
Hannah fussed a bit, and waved her arms around in time with the song. Turning to look at her, I saw tears running down her face, and because she had a trach in her throat, she didn’t make any sound when she cried. The sound was more like that of a cat hissing. She began kicking as well, and I cradled her in my arms and spoke softly to her. By then she was flailing and I checked her diaper, then set her back in the bouncy chair. As I did, her abdomen rose as though it was being inflated with air, and it became as hard as a table top; her eyes fluttered shut and her complexion turned bluish.
In a panic, I cradled her again jostling to get her to wake up. Fear sliced through my body like a juggernaut overwhelming me, and I grabbed the cordless phone.
“Yes, my daughter had heart surgery, stopped breathing, six months old. Help. Help!I don’t know what to do.”
“Please hold on sir, let me transfer you to the fire department.”
While taken aback by being put on hold, the calling waiting beeps and it was Iris, my wife.
“Hi,” she says. “How are things?”
“Hannah stopped breathing!” I scream. “Get home now!”
Without waiting for the fire department, I put Hannah back in her bouncy seat, and remembering that brain damage happens after about two minutes, and also to check her trach tube, I unfasten it and pull the tube out of her throat, and blow air in her throat. Then I swiftly replaced the trach with a fresh one from her “Go Bag”. In seconds, her complexion returned to normal, her eyes fluttered open and she stirred as if woken from a nap.
I carpeted Hannah’s face with kisses and soothed her with coo-coos, while trying to ignore my feelings about how close Hannah came to dying. We slouched on the couch as though we had suddenly become dislodged from a huge vise. A minute later the house filled with five paramedics who swarmed around Hannah checking her vitals.
8) What have been the most memorable experiences that you have had thus far as a parent?
I would say that event made me cherish Hannah every day. I am present to the love I feel for Hannah and when I feel it from her. The Love of ones’ child leaves a lasting impression; especially if you almost lost one. It is also immensely rewarding to see Hannah learning to take care of, and learn to ride horses; She is learning Hebrew and she writes stories everyday. Hannah is also loving and outgoing. She is in a full embrace of life. These are joys to behold. Thank you for your interest.
If you have any questions for Keth, please leave a comment here and I will make sure that he gets them so that he may be able to respond!