It was 21 years ago on a January morning that I broke the news to my husband that he was going to be a father. In the tiny kitchen of the little bungalow where we began our life as a married couple in Jamaica, we shared the joy, as well as the trepidation of the new journey we were about to embark on. Parenthood, like marriage places the expectations of the participants against the realities imposed by life and circumstances. There is often a huge disparity between these two aspects, and joy of the journey is very much dependent on how well one can adjust the expectations to meet the reality of the here and now. This is the first year in our history of parenting that my husband has been alone on Father’s day, as one daughter has been launched from the nest, and I am currently in the process of completing the launch of the second one. Today my memories of our journey and his role as a father fill my mind with images, and my eyes with tears …especially as I imagine him making his own breakfast on a day when his daughters would normally have made him breakfast.
The earliest memories are of his first meetings with his two daughters. After almost 20 hours of increasingly painful labour which failed to progress to natural delivery, the first child had to be delivered by C-section. So, her daddy could not be present at delivery although he had bravely held my hand through every contraction. (If you have ever offered your hand to a woman in labour to hold, you will understand why courage is required to do this.) So he waited eagerly outside the operating room for the first glimpse of his first child. I did not get to see his face nor hear his first words, but I was told that he shed tears at the sight of his newborn daughter who even minutes old was clearly the spitting image of her father. He was present for the arrival of the second one, and I remember him telling me how she had so much hair on her head, just like her sister. One of the most powerful components of fatherhood is presence, and just as he was present to witness their entry into this world, for the past 21 years he has been a constant, loving, calm and rational presence in the lives of his two daughters.
Another memory that surfaces is of him making coffee in the morning, in that same tiny kitchen, with a baby daughter in his hand. Each of his baby daughters in turn got to hold the coffee scoop in their tight baby grip. Right beside that memory is one of him allowing them to eat a mango, before they could even walk. The child stripped to diapers,, held securely in one arm, and a peeled Julie or Bombay mango held in the other hand…with the child then allowed to almost bury their face in the mango which eventually got consumed down to the seed. Left up to their mummy, the girls would not have been fed a mango in that way. But the looks of utter delight in the faces of father and daughter silenced any protest I might have thought to make.
Then there is the bubble gum incident memory. I had forbidden the girls from eating bubble gum after several “gum in places where gum should not be episodes”. But in my absence the children decided to disobey, and somehow one child got gum stuck in her hair. I was most annoyed when I came home, and out of patience with the girls, I threatened to just cut off the gummed up hair because I had no time to waste picking gum out of hair. Their dad came to the rescue, and sat down with said gum haired child and patiently removed the all the bubble gum with the aid of baby oil Both children still recall this incident to this day, and it was probably one of the many things that led to their father being known as the “Yes Daddy” and me being known as the “No Mummy”.
He introduced them to Legos, origami ,games on the computer and various electronic devices as they got older. One Christmas, the girls got the gift of an entire Barbie doll house kit with furniture and tiny utensils, pots and all manner of miniature Barbie scaled things. I can remember him planning that gift, and searching on E-bay for those particular toys, and the bidding exercise over a period of days, to acquire the gift that he wanted. When the big unmarked box arrived days before Christmas, the girls were tempted almost beyond control to take an unsanctioned peek. Each year for birthday and Christmas was a carefully thought out and selected gift that was ideally suited for the child in question. They were always gifts that provided weeks and months, and in some cases a lifetime of enjoyment, utility and learning.
Fourteen years ago, my husband was invited to spend a month in Paris working on a project in his field of study. The children and I got to accompany him to spend the month in France. After much planning and preparation, a trans Atlantic flight, a bus ride to change airports in England and hours in immigration we finally arrived in Paris, and were escorted by our host to the spacious apartment that was to be our home for the next month. Two days later both children were sick with a raging fever, coughing and wheezing. So instead of going to work on the Monday, my husband and one of our hosts spent the day getting the children to an emergency room. This required a train ride with two sick children, and was perhaps one of the worst times of my parenting experience. Thankfully the kids were seen and treated, medication prescribed, and they were deemed fit to be sent home.
The following day, as I watched the rapidly beating pulse in one child’s neck, and the pale listless look of the other one, I went into a panic that they were getting worse and wanted to call the ambulance. Thankfully their father kept his wits about him and suggested that we get some warm food into the kids and then see how they respond. It was a rainy day, and he walked in the rain to the grocery store nearby and brought back a box of green split peas soup, and I think fresh pastries from the bakery. As he predicted, the kids ate the soup and the bread and by evening were no longer looking as if they were on verge of death. If it was not for their father’s ability to keep calm in the face of his wife’s panic, I may have made things worse by calling an ambulance. We went on to have an unforgettable month in France, and I suspect that my older daughter’s Francophilia was born during that trip. Even though my husband and I did not always see eye to eye on bubble gum, screen time and many other things, this was one of those moments when I was immensely grateful that I had him as a fully present partner in the parenting journey.
Ultimately the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the best judge of whether you have been a good parent or not are the children you raised. Our two daughters are now both officially adults, old enough to vote, and to consume alcohol. About 3 years ago, before the older one left home for university abroad, on one of our mother -daughters walk and talks, I asked them what were the most important things they learned from their father. These were the things they listed:
- It is okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them so that you don’t repeat them
- You must always do your best, be thorough and finish what you start. Try your best even if you think you might fail. Maintain a growth mindset
- Always be clear when you want or need something from somebody – communicate what you want precisely and clearly.
- Be honest.
- Be kind and when help is needed, offer it however and whenever you are able to.
- Have your own good reason for doing something, and don’t just do things because other people are doing things.
I think my husband will recognise himself in this description of lessons his daughters learned not just by what he preached but in how he approaches his work and his relationships with others. These are lessons learned while chatting around the dinner table, while resolving arguments, solving problems, providing advice, sharing experiences and just being fully present during the parenting journey. My older daughter added this observation to the list: because she always felt loved, valued and never ignored by her daddy, she does not feel the need to hunt for love and attention at any cost from any boy. I would add that both my daughters also now have an expectation of how a life partner should treat them because they have observed how their father treats their mother. If our daughters can identify these things as lessons learned before they have left the safety of home, I think they both stand a good chance of going on to becoming responsible, kind and productive members of society.
Thus in the closing hours of the 2021 Father’s Day as I leaf through my memories of the parenting journey that my husband and I have shared for the past 21 years, I realise that the practical reality has, in fact, been better than the theoretical expectations. When I began this journey, knowing nothing except that I wanted to have children, he was the one I wanted to be at my side. Today with the benefit of hindsight, and in spite of all the arguments, disagreements and challenges of raising two daughters, I still feel that there is no one else I would have wanted to take this journey with. So I dedicate these memories and reflections to the father of my children, as we embark on the next phase of being parents to young adults (such as we were once), and I look forward to making more parenting memories in the years to come.