While we sat together at dinner we were introduced to a nice, older lady. When the girls’ names and ages were given, she seemed somewhat overwhelmed.
“No boys?” She asked.
If I had a nickel… I shook my head, “Nope, all girls.”
“Three girls! Wow. You’re a good man.”
Picking up my fork, I thought that line of questioning would end and we could move on to other gentilities, or perhaps our salads. But it didn’t stop.
“Just stopped at three, huh? Three was enough? Didn’t try again.”
And just like that, simple words became broken shards of glass thrown against the soft flesh of my soul.
No, three is not enough. We have four daughters.
I saw my wife’s eyes well up immediately and I felt the heat of my own reddening face. When confronted with this awkward scenario, I’ve found I must make a quick judgment call. Most often I find it necessary to say her name – to politely plead her existence and memory. Kylie would be fifteen… Other times, I survey the situation and decide the correction would only embarrass the person to whom I am speaking. After all, she didn’t know any better. She didn’t know that I have a daughter who has died.
I let it pass.
I looked at the three daughters before me and thought of the one who is gone. I am a better man for all four. Going into fatherhood, I had no idea what the experience would give me. I assumed that I would be the teacher; and yet, I am most often the student. Each little nugget has given me unique treasures. I see beauty, root for the underdog, admire individuality, cherish time, and I value experience in wholly new ways thanks to them. My children have taught me more than I could ever teach them. If I could impart any wisdom on them it would merely be a condensed version of what I have learned in their company over the past twenty-one years.
But this begs a question: Am I a better man for having lost one of them?
It seems a preposterous proposition, but it is a question I ask myself. It is also one of my favorite questions to pose to other dads who have lost a child. Understand that when we meet, we grieving fathers are way past pleasantries from the outset. We almost always jump right to real, meaty conversation because of our shared experience. The answers vary – some say yes, some say no. Some ponder and ask me for my thoughts, but the question never fails to spawn meaningful dialog.
I have had a long time to consider the question. While simply being a father has taught me much, Kylie’s life and death have radically changed me.
I now know that love ranks above all else whereas money, status, and the things that men covet are basically meaningless.
I understand that the people in my life are meant to be treasured and that every experience has value all its own.
Where once I sought conformity, I now seek to celebrate uniqueness in myself and others.
I have come to respect things that are true and genuine regardless of how they make me feel.
I believe my faith was somewhat rote before, but now it is messy and something I must fight for every day.
I have learned the power of the moment – the simple joy of presence in the company of friends and family.
So yes, because of the things I have learned through this horrific experience, I believe I am a better man. The cost was far too high, however. I would rather have remained a shallow, worth-less human and have Kylie here. But I was not given that choice.
Life is a series of undulations: some are relatively minor and the swells of others destroy everything. From each, we learn more about ourselves and about riding the waves so we can be better in the future. As a father, I sink, flounder, and gasp for air daily – my daughters will tell you that. I haven’t the power to calm the sea around me; I can only seek to use the lessons of the storm to be a better man or drown trying.
This much I know: Three is not enough. I miss my baby girl.
I am the father of four.