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Getting the Chance to Play the ‘Original Mr. Mom’

Bob and Carol Crocker met when they lived in adjacent apartments in a Santa Monica complex in 1969. He was 35, had been divorced for four years after a 10-year marriage and, he enjoys saying, was “driving off airline stewardesses. I was really living it up because I got married when I was 21,” to his high school sweetheart. “Marriage was the farthest thing from my mind.”

His daughter, Susan, then 11 and, with her two older brothers, visiting for the summer from Upstate New York, had other ideas. “Carol seemed like a real nice lady,” she recalled. “I thought my father ought to meet her.” Three years later, they married.

It was Carol’s first marriage; Bob’s first marriage fell victim to the turbulent ‘60s. An aerospace engineer, he explained, “I build rockets and weapons and I think it’s a very necessary thing. She became everything pro-left of center and I was everything right of center.”

It was the age of new mores and morals and, he said, “It was too scary for me. At the same time I didn’t want to restrict her. I kept bending over to try to grow. Then I started to question, ‘Is this growth or deterioration?’ ”

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When Carol, then 23, and Bob, then 38, married, they had talked about the possibility of having a child, but had made no decision. They postponed that decision after he was laid off at Douglas and they relocated temporarily in Upstate New York. When they moved back to California in 1976, she said, “There were still not a lot of engineering jobs.” He was on unemployment; she found a job at St. John’s Hospital. Three months later, she became pregnant with Christopher. “He was a Pill baby, a statistic,” Carol said.

Bob acknowledged, “When we found out, we had some discussion” about an abortion. “Actually,” Carol said, “I thought we had enough children already (his three). We were living on a shoestring. His oldest son was in college then. I thought when the others got to be 18 or 20, we’d have some time for ourselves.”

But Bob wanted this child--"This was a second chance for me.” It was decided that Carol would keep her job and Bob, a weekend artist who had been exploring the potential for making a living painting, would stay home.

“I was the original Mr. Mom,” he said, a role he played until Christopher was almost 4. It was, he said, a mixed blessing; he didn’t love it, he endured it. Money being scarce, there was little for canvases. Time was even scarcer with a toddler in the house. Carol recalled, “He’d be balancing Chris in his backpack while trying to paint.”

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When he took the child to swim school, he remembers, the “other mothers” would give him that “What’s this guy doing with that kid, and where’s the mother?” look.

Looking back, Bob said, he was a living “a fool’s dream.” By the time Christopher was 3 and “nobody had showed up” with a lucrative offer for his art, he realized that “art wouldn’t keep the lights on.” Christopher went off to preschool and Bob returned to “the sanity of manufacturing airplanes.” (He is now with Hughes Helicopters.)

Bizarre and Whimsical

His paintings hang in Carol’s office at St. John’s, where she is in administration, and on the walls of the Crockers’ apartment; they are a nice blend of the bizarre and the whimsical, among them a rococo-framed oil titled “Elephant in a Cherry Tree.” (Bob explained, “They’re easy to spot, unless they paint their toenails.”)

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He never regretted the four years off from his career. “I’ve never been driven by my job,” he said. “I march to a different drummer.” Far worse for him was “the anguish of what my family was doing without” during the years he had no paycheck. But the years at home with Christopher also were learning years for Bob. With his first set of children, he said, “I was about as ignorant as anybody. You get more tolerant, more reasonable. With my other kids, I was going to school (studying engineering), going to work (as a laborer), trying to be an artist. By the time I got home there wasn’t time left to get eight hours’ sleep before going on the road again.”

Now, at 51, the grandfather of three, he said, “I’m getting to accept myself more. What I was basically getting on my first kids about was being like myself. It’s like looking in the mirror and seeing yourself doing something you don’t want to be doing.”

With Christopher, he said, “I’m more relaxed. I’m more like a grandfather to him. Great guy, casual ‘Fa.’ I’m not the disciplinarian I was.”

“He loves all his kids, believe me,” said his daughter Susan, now 27. “But I think he was probably better for us than he could be for Chris. Basically, he was younger--no offense, Pop--and had a lot more energy.”

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What does Christopher think? Well, he said, “I kind of like him the way he is. He likes to build model airplanes and stuff.”

Susan, who has a close relationship with Carol--"my wicked stepmother"--has doted on Christopher from the start. Of her blended/extended family, including what she calls “the add-ons,” she said, “Everybody has everybody. Everybody likes each other. (Christopher visits Susan’s mother as well as his paternal grandparents.)”

Carol, 36, agreed, “It’s real fun to be part of a family that extends over generations. I have such fun telling people I’m a grandmother. And it’s wonderful for the children.”

Christopher is a lively 9-year-old, a Cub Scout whose bedroom zoo includes a guinea pig named Garfield. Someday, Bob recognizes, the child will be a lively teen-ager with a father pushing his 60s. “I’m sure I’m going to be dismayed,” Bob said, “bewildered, a little panicked. I may come out of it with a few scrapes and scratches.”

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For financial security, there is a T-bill in Christopher’s name. “He’ll be all right if something happens to me,” Bob said. “But I plan on living to 150, I’m having so much fun. I had grandfathers who washed out of the rigging on sailing ships, but the ones who didn’t meet with catastrophes lived to be very old.”

Having a 9-year-old son at this age is, he said, “like having your own grandkid that you don’t have to relinquish back to the parents at the end of the vacation.”


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