I’m a new parent. Well, I’m a fairly new parent. I’m on my third year as a dad to three little girls. And when it comes to parenting, three years may as well be three weeks, in my opinion. Especially in a household of only girls. Every day is a new day, with new experiences.
Prior to three years ago, my life was mostly simple. I got up early and went to work. I worked late, and then I came home to my old Australian Shepherd, ate dinner, would have a few glasses of scotch and then head to bed, only to wake up and repeat the whole routine again the next day.
But then I met this great gal, and she had a couple of pretty daughters. I fell in love with all three of them, and suddenly my whole neatly kempt, organized existence was turned on its head. Abby is our oldest at 14, Emma is the middle child at 10 years old, and then just to be sure that my wife April and I turned gray well before our time, we added another little girl to the mix about 18 months ago and we named her Gracee June. My life is now such a stark contrast to the life I had before. But in a very good way.
Being a parent is the most rewarding, exhausting, hilarious, exasperating and wonderful experience that I could have ever imagined. And it’s also terrifying. Being responsible for three little humans is daunting; for their safety, for their education, for their health, for their emotions. Helping to encourage them and guide them in the right directions, not to mention the financial responsibilities that go along with them, is often enough to bring a man to his knees. But still, the rewards far outweigh the stress and worry that goes along with them by leaps and bounds.
One thing that I did not anticipate when becoming a father was the amount of questions that I would be asked on a daily basis. Oh my gosh, you guys. The questions…they just never stop. THEY NEVER STOP. Most of the questions are just simple questions that require one word answers. “Stoney, what’s your favorite food?” “Stoney, what’s your favorite color?” “Stoney, do you like milk?” These questions are easy to answer, and frankly, there is really no ‘wrong’ answer to them.
However, sometimes the questions become more difficult and have much more serious consequences if not answered correctly. I was asked one of those questions earlier this week. At first glance, this question doesn’t seem too scary. Emma simply asked, “Stoney, what do you think I should be when I grow up?” That seems like an innocent enough question, I suppose. Right? But suddenly, I picture Emma as an adult. I picture her in business suit. Or wearing scrubs. I picture her having children of her own, a career, a husband. And then suddenly, this small piece of advice that I am giving her takes on a whole new meaning. Because she listens to my advice. She trusts me. She takes anything I say to be the truth. Talk about pressure! What if I’m wrong? What if I steer her in the wrong direction?
As I am sitting there with all of this running through my mind, Abby decides to pipe up as well, “Yeah, what do you think I should do when I get out of school, Stoney?” Oh good grief…now they are both looking at me with these expectant stares, awaiting my response. First, I ask Emma, “Well, what do you want to do, Emma? What would you enjoy?” After thinking for just a moment, she blurts out “an animal doctor!” I smile at her, and say truthfully “You would make an EXCELLENT veterinarian.” But then she says, “But I don’t know if I get good enough grades to be one of those. I think you have to be real smart.” My quick reply was, “Of course you’re smart enough.” She quickly rebounded with “or, maybe I’ll just be a Mall Cop. Cuz they get to drive around on those cool scooters and segways.” There’s the Emma that I expected to hear. As much as the mall needs quality security personnel, I am going to urge to her follow the veterinarian field instead, I think.
The conversation then quickly took a different turn, as conversations often do in this house, and we never really finished what we were talking about that night. But I haven’t stopped thinking about it. It’s been very prevalent on my mind, because I want to say the right things to them and give them advice that will stay with them all of their lives. So I think back to my parents when I was growing up. How would they have answered these questions? Thinking back on this, I cannot think of a single time that my parents ever discouraged me from anything in my whole life. I am a confident adult, because they constantly encouraged me as a child. Sure, I failed at certain things growing up, but I was taught to learn from those failures, to get back up, dust myself off and try again. But because they believed in me, I believed in myself and that helped me to succeed more often than I failed.
It was then that I realized that I don’t actually remember any specific earth-shattering pieces of advice that my parents gave me. I can’t tell you exactly what they may have said to me when I lost, or even when I won or did well. But I do know that unequivocally, they believed in me. And that made all of the difference in the world to who I became as an adult. It’s not about what they said, but about how they made me feel, and how they treated me.
So to my girls, the most important thing I can ever say to you is this: I may not always say the right things. I may stutter and stammer, searching for the right words. I may even say the complete wrong thing. But always know this; I believe in you. Your mom believes in you. We will always believe in you with all of our hearts. You are smart, funny, thoughtful, kind and generous. Abby, you are responsible, mature and creative. Emma, you are tenacious, eccentric and a true original. Gracee, we don’t know yet what all your strengths are, but we already know that you have a fire that burns bright inside of you.
You are all exactly what your mother and I want you to be. And you can be ANYTHING you want to be when you grow up. ANYTHING. There is nothing stopping you from becoming the person that you want to be as an adult. Nothing except for the limitations that you put on yourself.
Believe in yourself, girls. Because I believe in you.