A Milestone of Sorts…
Last week marked a once-in-a-lifetime milestone for my relationship with my daughter. On Thursday she became exactly the same age that I was the day she was born. To be precise that is 19 years, 3 months, 20 days. I asked her how she would feel having a child at the same age today and her reply was, “That’s weird Dad.”
Being a young parent has its pros and cons. On the negative side there wasn’t much money and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing most of the time. On the plus side I had a bit more energy and because I just assumed I was doing things wrong I never felt constrained by any kind of Rules of Good Parenting. If my daughter is proof of my success then I did a pretty good job. I am as proud of her as any parent can be and the best compliment I can give is that I find her fascinating. She shares many of my interests in music and culture, a similar sense of humor and she is far smarter than I can every hope to be.
A while back I mentioned that I wrote an essay for the book This I Believe: Kentucky. I think a lot of people assumed the essay was about Kentucky because of the book title and because I write about my home state often. To the contrary, my essay was about being a father at an early age and some of the lessons I have learned along the way. With the permission of the publishers I am sharing the text of my essay here in full. As a shameless plug, I encourage readers to check out the book. It is filled with excellent words of wisdom on a number of topics and is a good representation of the diversity of views held by my fellow Kentuckians. As for my small contribution, I hope readers will enjoy…
Learning to Parent
I became a father at the age of 19, knowing in the back of my mind that I would never raise my daughter as part of a couple with her mother. I correctly guessed that our relationship could not withstand the pressures of parenting at such a young age. I was also scared and immature, unprepared for the great responsibility that was placed on me, but I was determined to succeed.
Being the kind of person who finds comfort through the written word, I looked for answers in books and magazines. I searched online using depressing terms like ‘non-custodial parent’ and ‘single father’. There was good advice out there and I took much of it to heart, but I still I kept searching for that one guiding principle that trumped all others. I finally found it, just a few weeks before my daughter was born. I must admit I don’t remember where it came from and I apologize to the author for not giving him or her the credit that is due. It simply read:
“The best parents are the ones who never forget what it’s like to be a kid.”
That rule has not let me down once in 19 years as a parent. I was the first dad down the slide behind my daughter and I will still do anything to make her laugh. I try not to embarrass her when she’s with her friends and I tried to be kind to the first boy that came to our door for a date. I also try to put myself in her shoes before I hand out punishments, which is perhaps the hardest test of my guiding principle.
I spent many years as a non-custodial parent, co-parenting as best I could with my daughter’s mother. Then, in 2004 I married the woman of my dreams. Her love and support allowed me to eventually gain joint custody of my daughter when she was 16. When we married I also gained a stepdaughter who is different from my daughter in almost every way, presenting new challenges. We have created a blended family that we are proud of and of course my parenting philosophy has evolved over time.
Like many parents, I believe that my daughters have taught me far more than I will ever teach them. In so many ways, we have grown up together. Still, I am far from perfect and there is a regrettable gap between my beliefs and my actions and the challenge is to try to make that gap smaller and smaller with each passing year. I have many goals for myself, both professionally and personally, but at the end of the day, none of them matter if I fail as a parent. Being a parent has been one of the greatest gifts of my life and every good parent I know has achieved their success because they realized the same thing.
Mike Dwyer is a freelance writer in Louisville, KY. He writes about culture, the outdoors and whatever else strikes his fancy. His personal site can be found at www.mikedwyerwrites.com. He is also active on Facebook and Twitter. Mike is one of several Kentucky authors featured in the book This I Believe: Kentucky.