My oldest daughter, Rebecca, turns eighteen today and we are celebrating what I call “emancipation day.”
When I talk to most mothers about how they felt when their first child was born they tend to describe a feeling of overwhelming joy and love. I have felt that way often during Rebecca’s eighteen years, and felt that way upon the birth of my second child almost nine years later. But the moment I first cradled Rebecca in my arms and stared intently into her face I was proud but mostly overcome with an overwhelming feeling of responsibility.
Part of this was due to my life circumstances at the time of her birth. Because my wife wanted to be relatively young when she became a mother–extremely young for her peer of graduate school educated professionals–we had Rebecca before I was established in my career. In fact the day Rebecca was born we were only seven weeks into a relocation from Philadelphia to Charleston, I was unemployed with no real idea of what type of legal career I wanted, and I was awaiting the results of my South Carolina bar examination. I was simply unsure how and whether I could live up to the responsibilities of fatherhood.
While I believe it is vital for fathers to nurture their children and important for mothers, if possible, to provide for their children, I do not believe it is merely culture that causes a gender imbalance in parenting roles. Mothers literally nurture their children with their bodies, both in utero and through lactation. Mothers have their own fears when their first child is born, but most fathers I talk to who take their role as a parent seriously tend to have the same fears I had: will I be able to balance my work and my family life and be able to enjoy my child’s childhood; will I be able to adequately provide for my child?
Today is emancipation day for both of us. Rebecca is now legally an adult and can make her own decisions without my consent. While I might hope she will look to me and her mother for advice and counsel throughout her life, the decisions she makes from now on are hers alone to make. It’s also emancipation day for her father. While I continue to provide for her and nurture her, my expectations are that this level of financial support and guidance will diminish over time. Further, while I would have considered myself derelict in my responsibilities as a father if I was unable to provide for her material needs during the past eighteen years, that burden is now lifted. While I hope to continue to assist her, I would feel much less shame from here on out if I cannot. I look forward to the day when our relationship will be that of peers who can simply enjoy our shared history and each other’s company.
With no offense to my wife and younger daughter–the day of our wedding and her birth are among the five best days of my life–the date of Rebecca’s birth eighteen years ago was and remains the greatest day of my life. I am proud to have met my commitment over the past eighteen years ago. I am blessed to have been able to provide for her materially and balance work and family life up to this point without any serious troubles for either of us. In an era of divorce, teen pregnancy and substance abuse, job instability, and home foreclosures few fathers are so lucky.
How could October 14, 1992 not be the greatest day of my life? That was the day my wife and Rebecca made me a father.