Our oldest daughter is about to turn 22; the younger will be 20, soon.  Time flies, certainly, but the rapidity with which my babies became girls, then women, staggers me.

When I was young, I didn’t want children.  I assumed the relationship would be strained, so bringing antagonists into my life made no sense.  However, my older brother had two children and I saw, firsthand, the delight they brought him.

I asked him how he did it.  A man of few words, he said, “Be nice.”  Parenting made simple.

Indeed, life made simple.

Susan, my wife, is a calm, patient, kind person, who wanted children.  I knew she’d be a good mother.  We’re the same age, and got married, when we were 31.  We had Erin a year later, in March, 1997.  Bang.  We were parents.

Claire came along 23 months, later.  Bang.  We were a family.  Susan was a mother.  I was a father.  Bang, indeed.

Having children changed, everything.  For the first time, I felt love; deep, profound compassion, concern, and care for something.  I loved my family, my wife, pets, friends, hockey, travelling, Beer, writing…. but the feelings stirred by my girls were unlike anything.

My only priority was, and is, their well being.  To this day, if they are happy, I am.  However, if one is sad, I’m crushed and agonize how to fix it.  A friend, rightly, said, “You are only as happy as your saddest child.”

Susan and I took delight watching them grow up.  Toddler Claire, obsessively picking the fuzz from between her toes, during “gymnastics,” remains a highlight.  I dislike phones and think distracted parents are as negligent, self-indulgent, and irresponsible as absent ones.  “Look at me, Daddy,” has had to be amended to, “Put down that idiotic rectangle, Daddy, and look at me or I’ll grow up angry and resentful, due to a terrible role model.”   EriKa Christakis writes in The Atlantic “the engagement between parent and child is increasingly low-quality, even ersatz.”

My girls have given me purpose and inspiration.  Each got a Fifty; a poem of 50 words.  Knowing how cruel the world can be, they’re shaped to the tip of a mighty pen, or the mightier sword.

—-

Dear Erin

Be the best you can be

Smell the flowers; hug a tree

Look beyond what you can see

Gaze at the sky; splash in the sea

Remember, the truth will set you free

If necessary: go for an eye, nuts, or knee

I love the girl that you call me

Dear Claire

Be nice; sit-up straight

Go outside; play until late

Don’t be afraid of love or of hate

Turn off the lights; lockup the gate

Shoot real straight and pull your weight

Celebrate, create, date, debate, fascinate, skate…

You, my girl, are amazingly great

It doesn’t take psychologists, psychiatrists, researchers, scientists, experts, to know children develop into healthy, happy adults, when they are loved and nurtured, ideally, by both parents, and others.  Male role models, fathers, especially, are critical.

I taught my girlie girls to be rough and tumble, to throw and catch, to get up and hit back.  Where my wife would have indulged, I’d say, “Do it yourself.”   Then, watch, teach, help, and cheer.

I have never held back, or changed, around my girls.  I carry on, whether they are with me, or not.  Over the years, many have felt sufficiently entitled to admonish.  “You shouldn’t do that in front of your kids.”  “You shouldn’t say that in front of your kids.”  “You shouldn’t let your kids call you Kevin.”  (My kids call me Kevin.)

I have, and always have had, a great relationship with my girls.

You shouldn’t tell other people what to do.

Throughout evolution, it took a village to raise a child.  Villages, however, have disappeared.  The onus for raising children, then, falls, squarely, on Mom and Dad.  The number of parents, men, especially, who forsake and abdicate the opportunity and obligation to raise their children is as well documented as the tragic outcome.

Children face another, less discussed, obstacle. There are a growing number of parents, who regret having children. This is a quote from an article in Macleans, “The reality of motherhood is incontinence, boredom, weight gain, saggy breasts, depression, the end of romance, lack of sleep, dumbing down, career downturn, loss of sex drive, poverty, exhaustion and lack of fulfillment.”

My wife said, “She doesn’t speak for me.”  We agree, nothing could have been more rewarding, fascinating, satisfying, and life affirming, than our girls.

Take my “career,” my house, my money, my stuff… take it all and burn it to the ground.  I don’t care.  If Erin and Claire are fine, I’d still have everything I’ve ever loved.

The western world is richer than ever; abundance abounds.  I don’t know what to make of a privileged society, which neglects, regrets, and resents its own children.

I, really, don’t.

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