Before we had children, I didn’t care much about them. It’s not that I abhorred children (I understood the concept of keeping our species going, after all), it’s just that because me and my wife didn’t have any, they weren’t important. Other people had kids. We had a dog.
But then one thing lead to another and yadda yadda yadda now we’re the parents of two daughters who are 12 and 14. And surprisingly, being a father is great. I wish we had started sooner.
Before we had children, and whenever the concept would come up in conversation, all I could focus on was the time and financial commitments. Neither of which appealed to me. But now that I’ve been a dad a while, I can say quite confidently that you don’t think much about either of those things when you’re doing the job. I mean you could. You could drive yourself crazy working stupid hours to try and save as much money as possible to pay for your kids to go to college one day. We don’t do that. It’ll all work out. And while we’re not wealthy people, because of how we’ve chosen “to be” as a family, we’re filthy rich.
And shared experience is our bucket of gold.
Last night during her prayer (yes, I still kneel down with our girls at night to get humble and give thanks even if it feels like going through the motions most of the time), our oldest daughter ended her prayer with, “I pray that our family stays together forever.”
And I lost my breath.
We’d just safely returned from a weekend trip to Savannah for a soccer tournament. We went down on Friday, while everyone else on her team showed up Saturday. The reason we left early was to spend Saturday morning and afternoon together exploring what we could of Savannah before the first game later that night. The weekend before we’d gotten away to the mountains where we holed up in a cabin for a couple of days getting on each other’s nerves, hiking, bickering, and laughing hard together.
When she said this in her prayer last night, it made me realize that I had similar thoughts at her age about me and my family.
I was the adopted son into a Brady Bunch scenario. I had three sisters—step, half, and blood. My fondest memories from childhood were our vacations together–which happened once a year during the summer. I lived for those trips. Sure, it was plenty boring as we’d pack into the yellow station wagon with the wood paneling on the side and drive for hours, but there was something about that togetherness that lingered. A few weeks after turning 18, I left for the Air Force and never went back–as my family was well on its way to splintering apart at that point. I believe most of them have reconciled to some degree, but I’ve opted to keep my distance. It’s not resentment or spite or anything bad like that, it’s just that we’re so different now that I don’t feel comfortable around them. It’s a classic “it’s not you, it’s me” scenario. Instead, I prefer to remember the best times when we were happily cruising along I-10 at 55 MPH with the windows down and Glen Campbell on the radio.
Replace Glen Campbell with The National while doing 80 MPH, and I wonder if our trips are what our daughters will recall most fondly as they get older.
When you’re 14, “forever” is still a valid concept. That’s because you still have a close proximity to the long summer days of childhood when your biggest fear was whether the tooth fairy was going to come. But then the months start to pile up and the tooth fairy falls away along with the Easter bunny. Santa Claus hangs on a while longer, but at some point you start to do the math and realize that, well, Santa’s not real either. Soon after, you begin to question whether there’s any magic at all in the world. Especially when you hear stories about evil men gunning down innocent people. People just like you and your family.
After her prayer, we said “I love you” and I closed her door. Then I thought how much longer we have before those dreams of “forever” start to slip away.
Being a parent is the most heartbreaking and beautiful experience of my life.