Brother Will wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago about his different perspectives on fatherhood (or the expectation of fatherhood) that he had between a pregnancy scare in his youth and the real thing with his wife now. First off, congrats to the expectant father and I wish him the best. Secondly I thought it was a timely prompt to tell my story.
When I was a freshman in college I found out that my girlfriend was pregnant. It should have come as no surprise because we were young and dumb and not as careful as we should have been. Of course it was still a shock that I was woefully unprepared for mentally, financially and maturity-wise. We sat down and had an unpleasant talk about what we were going to do. At that time I was very self-centered. An abortion seemed the best choice and if not, adoption. I was informed in no uncertain terms that she was keeping the baby and whether I was involved or not, I would be financially supporting our child.
My parents were not college graduates. I was the oldest child. I had gone to a very good (and expensive) prep school. There were a lot of hopes on my shoulders. I saw my father cry for the first time when he heard the news. But he also promised he would love his new grandchild and help me as much as he could. It was harder for my mom. She didn’t like my girlfriend and she saw a lot of drama in my future. On that score she was correct.
My daughter was born a few months after I turned 19. When I look at pictures from that day I look like a child myself. I remember exactly how terrified I was. I remember the nurses having to show me how to hold her. I remember the disaster that was my first attempt at changing a diaper. By this point the pregnancy had taken its toll and her mother and I barely spoke. Two months later I signed away custody and resigned myself to occasional visits and a distant relationship. Over the first year of her life I continued to live the life of a young college student, partying and behaving terribly. Then I was nearly killed in a car accident. Driving home late one night I fell asleep at the wheel and flipped my car on a freeway. By some miracle I crawled away from the wreckage with just a few cuts and bruises.
That was a pivotal moment for me. Suddenly my greatest fear was that my daughter would have had to live with the embarrassment of having her father die a stupid death when she was still a baby. So I resolved to do right by her. I wish I could say I became a model father but I didn’t. I still made dumb mistakes, but from that day forward I put her first. Money was tight and it took me ten years to complete my degrees but I never missed a child support payment. I spent lots of time with her. I fought for years to get joint custody and eventually won it by simply wearing down the judge. It was probably my proudest moment as a parent up to that point.
Today my daughter started college. I spent the morning carrying her belongings up the stairs of her dorm. She’s staying in town so we will still see her regularly but this marks a new chapter for us. On Friday she will be 18. Legally an adult but obviously still a child in so many ways. Driving away from campus afterwards was hard but not because I am going to miss her. The thing I felt was shame. For all these years I have lived with the knowledge that if her mother would have consented I would have allowed my child to be ‘terminated’ in a quick medical procedure and then went on with my life. I would have missed this day and so many other ones. I am relieved her mother was stronger than me that day but I also live with my guilt.
This isn’t a post about abortion. My pro-life position is well-known and it’s the one issue I am militant about so a debate is pointless. What this post is really about is giving thanks. I am just one father who was given a second chance to right his wrongs and I am so thankful for the opportunity. Today is a happy day and I’m proud to share it with you.