Today is my oldest daughter’s 12th birthday, and it’s one that I’ve been dreading almost as much as my own 30th birthday. It’s the last one where she’ll still be a kid and not a teenager, and the days of innocence will yield to years of turmoil and tribulation culminating (somewhere) somewhere down the line in enlightenment. And that’s as much for me as it is for her, because I’ve found that in the dozen years of being daddy; every day is a new experience and an unplanned and sometimes joyous adventure. You kind of get a pattern down and then your kids grow up a bit more and change it when you least expect it. I guess that’s just the nature of things, but being a parent even more so.
I’ll be honest here: I wasn’t quite ready to be a father when my daughter came along. Not that she wasn’t planned, because she most certainly was; but even though I kept telling myself that I was ready to have kids, at then 36 years of age I wasn’t. My wife and I had two careers going, we were still newlyweds (only married 4 years at the time), and pretty much used to hopping on a train or a plane and going away for a long weekend somewhere. There was always the twice a week dinners at our favorite restaurants as well as some serious partying on our terrace which overlooked the Atlantic. In the summer, it was a gathering place for all sorts of friends and relatives who would make the trek to our place for an afternoon or weekend by the complex’s pool (which was right across from the boardwalk in the quiet end of town). The blender was constantly whirring with exotic drinks, a cooler or the occasional keg was on the terrace and we were LEGENDARY in our complex as people who liked to have fun. So in September 1996 after Labor Day weekend, our home pregnancy test came back positive and was confirmed by the doctor a week or so afterward.
Smart woman that she was, my wife quit drinking (she still doesn’t drink; her last cocktail was on our 10th Wedding Anniversary 5 years ago) and smoking (she was only the occasional smoker, usually indulging only when we were out at a bar) immediately. I decided it was a good time for me to quit smoking marijuana, and for 5 years (except for the occasional toke at a party) that held firmly until after 9/11, when all bets were off. We would still go out, but I no longer had a partner in crime; and being the good alcoholic that I am, I decided that all things being relative as far as our bar tab was concerned, I’d just drink enough for two. We would still go away for weekends and have friends over…and then on May 7, 1997 my life as I knew it was definitely going to be different after 7:40 PM.
When my daughter was born, I was absolutely walking on air; I saw her birth and was completely moved by the experience. I got used to diaper changes (more on those in another post…except to say that two kids later, I have yet to change a poopy diaper) and spit up. I got used to being woken up at all hours (even though my wife breast fed) and my daughter getting all the attention…from both of us. I got used to no spur of the moment vacations or New Year’s Eves out with a bunch of drunken revelers. I got used to eating out in a restaurant with a child, and for the most part she was unbelievably well behaved and enjoyed going out to dinner immensely. (Except of course the one time where she threw her entire plate of spaghetti handful by handful at random tables and passers by…an incident her mother and I constantly remind her of because it’s hilarious when recounted in detail). We had a few vacations as a young family as well down to Wildwood Crest, and eventually moved out of our apartment (which was a fairly large one bedroom, but quickly got cramped after a year and a half) to our current home. Her sister was born in August 2001, exactly 30 days before the worst day of my life.
All of these things helped me to BE a parent and hopefully to learn from my experiences and be a BETTER one. At 48, I’m not sure if I can validly say I would be ready to be a parent because I don’t think that anyone really IS ready; that is, until you have a child. There is no instruction manual; they do not send you to school to learn parenting (although a few people I know could benefit from that experience). LIFE is the school you learn from, and the professor of that class is not an adult…it’s your own flesh and blood…a child. Of course, there are other things children teach you about other aspects of your life as well…like how to creatively learn code phrases when your kids finally learn how to spell and you can’t get away with that little trick anymore. Most especially, children teach you how to become a better human being; and I guess I just discovered as I’m typing this what the old phrase “The child is Father to the Man” means.
So for twelve years I have had the privilege of being the father to one of the most incredible human beings I know. She has been there for me in more ways than most kids her age have ever had to be for their own parents. She’s tough, she’s tenacious, she despises intolerance and injustice, she absolutely loves the NY Giants, and is a tree-hugging Liberal. I can’t take credit for the latter, she came to her own conclusions about that, but I will admit to turning her into a rabid NY Giants fan. She gets damned good grades too; I never have to keep on top of her to study or do her homework; I guess she learned to be a bit more self-motivating and independent when I was at the worst point of my alcoholism. She reminds me to recycle and continuously works on me to quit smoking. She watches James Bond movies with me, falling in love with the series once she saw “You Only Live Twice” (which was also the first Bond movie I ever saw) and she RAVES about the latest Bond, Daniel Craig, and “Casino Royale” (although “Quantum of Solace” didn’t really impress her). She makes an excellent cup of coffee, and is a pretty good cook as well. All in all, she’s an awesome person and I absolutely adore her (as I do her sister, but for entirely different reasons…they are very different people those two).
A dozen years of being Daddy; twelve years that absolutely flew by…and I’m not only glad I’m alive to enjoy these years, but I think I’m finally ready to be a father now.
“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” ~Mark Twain
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BOO BOO!