According to my calculations, I’ve been on this planet for 25, 612 days. So when I say that September 30, 1980, was perhaps the most important and memorable day of my life, that’s saying a lot. It means that I lived through 25, 611 days that went from the sublime to the ridiculous, the memorable to the forgettable, the extraordinary to the mundane and everything in-between. But on that one day, my life was changed forever.
In short, I became a parent. In our rented apartment at 1519 Masonic Avenue, my wife Karen gave birth to my first daughter Kerala, surrounded by two midwives, my sister Ginny, our school colleague Pamela and myself. I cut the cord and held Kerala in my arms some 60 seconds after she was born. And that’s when life as I knew it was no longer.
I’m not the first to marvel at the fact that you need to pass both a written and driving test to drive a car, need to work countless hours to get the degree your job requires, need to practice your instrument for some 10,000 hours before anyone will consider putting you on a stage. But any fool can become a parent, with no qualifications whatsoever, no instruction manual, no proof that you’re up to the task. One moment you’re a person and the next, you’re something else entirely, a parent responsible for the health and well-being of another living creature. But of course, not just another living creature, the one that carries your DNA forward, your legacy, the one you hope to continue the family line and name, the one you’re counting on taking care of you in your old age.
Karen and I were about as prepared as we could be. First and foremost, we wanted a child (take note, Texas) and at 30 and 29 years old, in our 5thyear together, felt ready to have a child. We were both teachers, so we knew a thing or two about children and the kind of child-raising we hope to cultivate. Our parents were mostly good parents, there for us when we needed them, mostly supportive, not flagrantly abusive, so we had some pretty decent models to emulate. Their biggest flaws from our point of view were simply going along with the assumptions of 50’s child-raising that we didn’t wholly accept. I already cooked and cleaned and now would change diapers, we both worked, Karen fixed some things around the house and we thrilled with the prospect of playing with our child, reading to her, camping with her, taking her to the movies, cooking with her, traveling around the country (and later) the world with her—and, as it turns out, teaching her at our school, Karen through art, me through music. We would not spank her or punish her excessively or tell her children were starving in India when she didn’t finish her vegetables or insist that she become a doctor or marry a Buddhist.
41 years later (and indeed, in each of those 41 years), the jury is in. We did a pretty god job. Kerala—and her sister Talia— are stellar human beings. Hard-working, hard-playing, fun, great writers, great cooks, good travelers, caring citizens with great politics, fabulous mom and aunt and generally just great to hang out with. My biggest disappointments are their refusal to watch old black-and-white movies with me, not listening to much jazz or classical music and not drinking oat milk with me. I can live with that.
Happy birthday, Kerala!