When Aurora Cohoon was born 10 weeks early, weighing just 2 pounds, 10 ounces, she was whisked straight to the neonatal intensive care unit at Women’s Hospital to grow bigger and stronger. Her parents and grandparents knew they were in for an anxious wait.
To fill the time in the next five weeks, mom Meredith Cohoon cuddled, bathed and fed Aurora. The doctors monitored, treated and evaluated her.
And dad Greg?
“I felt helpless through all the ups and downs,” Greg Cohoon said. “The doctors were all doing so much. I was her dad, but it seemed that all I could do was sit and watch her sleep.
“Then, the nurses came around handing out little knit preemie hats. And I looked at the hats and thought, ‘I could do that.’"
Knitting may be an atypical hobby for a dad to pick up, but to Cohoon, learning to knit seemed like a way to bring a little creative peace into an ocean of uncertainty. And while many people who pick up knitting immediately see its color and artistry, Cohoon, a systems architect at Lincoln Financial, saw its structure.
“A knitting pattern is like a computer program: it’s either one stitch or the other, like a 1 or a 0 in computer code. I could relate to that," he said. "It just felt right. Knitting can become monotonous, but in a good way, almost meditative. At such a crazy time, that was very soothing.”
Meredith’s mom brought knitting yarn, scissors and needles to the hospital, and taught him the basic stitches. While the baby slept, Cohoon practiced, with the goal of making a hat for her. During Aurora’s five weeks in the NICU, he got lots of practice.
Aurora got her hat. Her dad got hooked.
By the time Aurora came home, Cohoon was well on his way. First came more hats. After a little investigation at craft stores and on knitting websites such as Ravelry.com, he found patterns he liked, and added scarves, socks and toys. He knit on his lunch break, while watching TV in the evenings, and during lengthy conference calls.
“Knitting is comforting, repetitive, meditative in a way. It’s very portable, and the possibilities are endless. Up late? Can’t sleep? I knit," he said.
He started to attend craft shows and meet other knitters. He entered hats and other items into craft exhibits at three North Carolina fairs, and won ribbons. He started a blog, knittingdaddy.com, and an Instagram page to share what he was working on at the time. To his surprise, he quickly connected with fellow knitting enthusiasts from all over the world, an entire community created by people who had never met in person.
Cohoon realized that he had found his artistic outlet, and the “Knitting Daddy” was interwoven into his life. Recently, he added a Knitting Daddy podcast, which just aired its 100th episode.
Being the lone guy at a fiber arts event didn’t deter him; the bearded computer guy carrying a little bag of yarn and a half-finished project seemed to capture people’s interest.
“People do give me a second look. I’m kind of unique, although I try not to capitalize on it as a ‘hook,’” Cohoon said. “My story seems to resonate with people, and I don’t mind talking about it because it helps raise awareness.”
Although he typically doesn’t sell his creations, Cohoon’s hobby knit together his charitable work for the nonprofit Family Support Network when he came up with a hat pattern to sell on Ravelry.com as a fundraiser. After several years, he had sold 500 copies of the pattern and raised $1,400 to donate to the local nonprofit.
Knitters have also donated hats made from the pattern to Cone Health's NICU. A few weeks ago, Cone Health received a gift of 87 hats.
Aurora is 8 now, and a third grader at Greensboro Day School, where she is in the drama club and takes Mandarin lessons. The first hat that Cohoon made is a just a souvenir of her NICU stay.
Sometimes, she even tries her hand at knitting, putting her hands on top of her dad’s to get the feel of the stitches.
“She doesn’t really think a dad who knits is that unique. It’s all she’s ever known,” he said. “She’s the reason I got into this. It all started with Aurora.”