It’s pretty common for parents to provide lists of things that changed when children entered their lives. Those lists are funny and I like them–they can also be helpful for folks who think parenthood is a minor change, on the order of changing one’s socks–so I don’t want to discourage any other list makers in the world. Nevertheless, I can’t help feel that such lists are merely a palatable way of complaining about parenthood.
Sure there are features that warrant complaining. For example, while my family’s total mass only increased about 2% when our daughter was born, our poop production nearly tripled; how am I supposed to feel about that? I figure laughter is probably healthier than most alternatives. Well, laughter and a sort of stoic determination to continue living in spite of the diapers.
Still, I figure that parenthood is too easy a target. If my understanding of the statistics is correct, people are already putting it off because they figure so many other things are more enjoyable or important. Meanwhile, I think parenthood is just about the most amazing thing I’ve ever done, and easily the most valuable. (To be entirely forthright, I suppose these declarations would be less meaningful if you had any idea about what sort of wastrel I’ve been.)
Therefore…. Dramatic restatement for emphasis: Therefore…
I’m going to provide a list of ten positive changes parenthood caused in my life.
#10 A Better Neediness
The first few of these changes are cliché, but that doesn’t make them either less true or less significant. Perhaps the most obvious change involved in becoming a parent was this: my daughter needs me in an entirely different way that anyone ever has, and my response to it is entirely different too.
She needs me in a way that’s innocent and unashamed. It’s probably the most profoundly honest human emotion I’ve ever experienced. (Discounting my tears at the end of Return of the Jedi, of course. If you don’t cry when Luke throws away his lightsaber, you’re a robot. A mean mean robot.)
Of course I suppose I should unpack that a little bit, so no one starts thinking that I’m merely surrounded by heartless people. (Or that I am a heartless person myself, I suppose, although I don’t know how that could be true: I cried at the end of Return of the Jedi.)
When my wife says she loves me, I know she’s telling the truth. The issue isn’t that she might be dishonest, or even that she might not be trying her hardest to be entirely forthcoming. Instead, there are a wealth of nuances and depth to our relationship that she can’t express any more than I can. Dickens once said that every person is a “profound secret and mystery to every other.” Children are the exception, especially very young ones, probably because they’ve never read Dickens.
When my daughter falls and hurts herself, or when she has a scary dream at night, she expresses every ounce of her little heart. There aren’t any nuances to slip past unnoticed; the depth of relationship is homogenous on her part: she needs her daddy, because daddy makes things better.
Here’s a potentially ill-conceived analogy. Let’s say that relationships are a type of radiation. The special kind of neediness that children have is like a laser or some sort of overwhelmingly focused beam of that radiation. Only children can manage it. And then, as anyone who’s ever seen a super hero movie knows, the target of that radiation becomes a superhero. All the unlikely heroics I’m managed for my daughter’s sake are the result of the special relationship radiation that children produce.
When my daughter needs me, I appreciate it but not because of what it does for me. I don’t appreciate it because I find it gratifying or because it makes my position secure; rather, I appreciate it because I can make my daughter happy. Someday I hope I can be like that with regard to everyone, but parenthood is at least a first glimpse at that reality.
All of which to say: my daughter needs me, and it’s incredible.