(*Previously published in The Gang Magazine)
We have three daughters—Nikki, Michelle, and Shayna—and one much younger son, Casey.
I remember leaving the hospital after Nikki was born, going to some Denny’s type restaurant in Burbank, bumming a cigarette (I don’t normally smoke), suckin’ that thing down like Ratso Rizzo, then sitting inside and journalling/planning/hoping/praying that I could make something of myself to support ‘my family’.
It is mind-blowing to 1) get a girlfriend, 2) get married, 3) get pregnant—WHAT IS HAPPENING TO YOUR BELLY?!?—and then suddenly, whoa! We own a baby!! We are responsible for this miniature human!
At first we were scared, but that calmed down when we realized those early months were basically like caring for a wiggling meatloaf. We had no idea what to do as parents, but she was in no position to know otherwise. We lived in a dumpy little apartment in Van Nuys and baby knew no better.
Nikki talked a lot. A lot. She made decisions, and then made them good. One day she decided she was not wearing diapers anymore. She yanked that soggy pamper off her butt, borrowed a neighbor girl’s underwear, and never had an accident! Just Like That.
Same with training wheels. Antagonized by a neighbor kid, she yanked the training wheels off her bike—got on her bike, road two feet and fell. Got up, brushed off knees, rode three feet and toppled. Up, rode, fell. Up, stumble, crash, cut. Up, rode. Fell. She did this for like 20 minutes. Un.Stoppable. She had road rash, sooty face, determined mindset—and no diaper on her butt.
I loved her so much that when we got pregnant with child #2, I honestly feared I wouldn’t have enough love for the newcomer. You only got so much love, ya know….or so I thought. Turns out, love multiplies.
I fainted when Michelle was born. Nikki was a Caesarean, and for some reason, that didn’t perturb as much as seeing that second little hairless gerbil come pressing out the ol’ V canal like gelatin-covered play dough. Everything ok doc? yes? ok…and I sank to the floor.
Michelle used to suck her thumb and wrap her other arm under her chin and up to hold her ear. She scrunched her ear and sucked her thumb. She looked like a news reporter in the field holding a microphone and pressing an earplug.
She was more retiring and ‘background’ than her older sister Nikki. She’s an athlete, and easily the ’strongest’ in our family. Nikki taught her how to dance, and then she took dance lessons at a local studio. At first, Michelle seemed to have no talent– no rhythm, no timing, no panache. We only had eyes for her—meaning no one else would be drawn to watch her. But she loved dancing, and remarkably, and kinda suddenly, she bloomed out of nowhere—from a no obvious talent to a killer time machine that shines, sweats, and smacks it on the dime of time. When she dances with a group, they either put her in the center, or something seems wrong because her time is so good, so spot on, she clicks it and the others seem out of sync.
Shayna’s birth was terrifying. She had a huge head, and was difficult to deliver. The delivery room was tense and I was terrified. When she finally emerged, I suggested we attach cables to her cranium and enter her into the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
Shayna was the Queen of Everything, dictator, stubborn, determined. She would back-seat drive and give directions, having no idea whatsoever where we were. Didn’t matter. ‘Turn here’, stated with authority. Even when she didn’t know where we were, it seemed she knew where she was going. She sets her mind, and gets there.
Shayna learned to swim before she could talk! Why? She wanted to. Still wearing diapers, she would toddle-waddle to the edge of the pool with her still overly-large cranium….lean forward, and plunk into the water like a lead-headed plumb bob; swim straight to the bottom at the deep end, and then surface like a fishing bob.
My wife Susie did a phenomenal job discerning each child’s passion—proclivity, their God-given talents; we searched for them and tried to encourage them to pursue those passions and make them happen. You look for those strains of passion, interest, delight, and try to draw them out.
As a Dad, I didn’t do as well as I’d wished. I love my daughters insanely, and in a sense, I died for them, pursuing work to the ninth degree, hoping to earn enough cash to care for them. As most Dads do, I regret it, in the sense that I missed so many special moments with my little girls. Memories distort, and they may say otherwise—we did lots of fun stuff together—but what I most miss are moments with my daughters on my lap, sniffing that baby hair, loving, loving, loving.
We have a 10 year old son now, Casey, and I try, try, try to do with him what I miss(ed) doing with my girls.
I’ve got a theory: one of the ten commandments is to “honor your parents, so that it may go well with you”. Here’s my hunch: sure, I blew it with my kids, but God would have my kids honor me anyway, and you know why? Because when they have kids of their own and get to my age, they may well feel like they blew it too. But their kids, having seen them honor us, will do the same and honor them!
I can tell you from experience: When you’re down cause you feel you fell short as a parent, nothing is sweeter than having your kids lovingly lie that you’re the best.