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Emancipation day

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.

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  • You speak for many parents, Greg. Keep up the good work.

  • Cherie

    What a nice article. Happy Birthday to Rebecca!

  • Meaningful observations. I remember when they were both little babies. That went by very fast.

  • Very well said. Happy birthday, Rebecca!

  • mlramsdale

    I will say, Greg, I had and still have the exact same worries about balancing work and family, and I think all working mother’s do. I was working from my bed within two days of my first being born and back in the office part-time within a week – baby in tow!
    Happy birthday to your daughter!

    • ML-

      No doubt working mothers feel the same way I do about balancing work and family. However, I believe there’s one important difference: women have real choice in whether to be a pure homemaker or a wage-earner/homemaker blend in living up to their parental responsibilities. While fathers can do some homemaking as part of their parental responsibilities, I see zero cultural or legal support for fathers being pure homemakers as a complete fulfillment of their parental responsibilities.

      Until that changes, all concerned fathers should share the anxiety I felt while holding Rebecca for the first time. That’s why Rebecca’s 18th birthday was legally emancipating for her but psychologically emancipating for me.

  • Lee Forman

    As the proud Pop I congratulate you son for the outstanding job of parenting you and Karen have done. I know from experience with you and your sisters that it is not always easy but in the end always rewarding.

    Happy Birthday Rebecca!

    POP

  • Ruth Forman

    Greg,

    I so enjoyed your emancipaton day blog and share the feelings of great joy when you first took Rebecca out of her bassinet and gently handed her to me. While you provided her with material security, I feel you gave her far more. You always answered her honestly and openly with respect. If she had a different view, you never verbally put her down,but explained to her why you felt the way you did. You exposed her to the arts at an early age and shared your love of music, pop culture and camping with her. All of these and Karen’s input as well have had a positive impact on her.

    I have always loved and have great respect for Rebecca’s perceptivness, honesty and wisdom. I call her my sage because at 4 years old she was sharing her words of wisdom which were right-on! Rebecca is lovely and I know you will continue to enjoy and cherish her.

    As a parent, I must share that you may not feel as responsible for her materialistic needs, but your concern for her well-being never diminishes.

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