[Interview]
Ken – After Only Dating Women, a 9/11 New York City Fireman Now Has to Learn How to Raise One

Forty-four year old New York City 9/11 firefighter

  • Has two sons age ten and nine, and a six year old daughter, Cailyn
  • Grew up as the youngest of three brothers
  • Except for dating, has had no experience with girls, until the birth of his daughter
  • Lived through New York’s 9/11 tragedy as a young father

 

Select Quotes:

“I grew up in a household with two brothers, so to me girls were aliens.”

“We pulled up in front of what used to be a house, and now was just an empty lot. {Laughing} My wife stood crying with a pregnancy stick saying, I’M PREGNANT!”

“My daughter’s toddler years, I was her main care giver.  I was at home with her because of my shift work.”

“Her first day of school was traumatic for me. I felt a great loss, dropping her off and then coming home to the empty house, and, ‘My little girl’s not a baby any more. {whispering} Where’s my little girl?’ {Almost crying} That was a tough day.”

“She drew a castle, she drew the four seasons, she drew a picture of me and her inside a HEART! That was probably the four hundredth heart that she’s drawn with me and her and… they’re hanging all over the place.”

“{Big sigh} The hardest, is trying to get her to keep her room cleaned.”

“Hmmm, mistakes? Yeah, I don’t have enough structure in my life, and I don’t think I gave enough of it to my kids.”

“My advice to dads? Get used to having tea parties and playing with pocketbooks and lipstick and having your nails painted.  Your daughter’s going to get away with doing things that you wouldn’t let anyone else do to you, like paint your nails. ‘Okay honey.’ {laughing}” 


[INTERVIEW BEGINS]

From your perspective, are daughters different than sons?

Oh yeah. It’s obvious to everyone in my family. [Daughters] interact differently, and they get treated differently. They can change the room just by walking into it.

The boys know that [my daughter] gets treated differently.  I have to explain to them, it’s not better or worse. It’s just different.

It’s just that she’s a girl and she acts like a girl. And you’re a boy and you act like a boy.  You get treated the way you act.  And girls get treated the way they act.

[Girls and boys have] different emotional tolerances and so everybody does not get treated the same. The world is not fair and … not necessarily good or bad, it’s just the way it is.

Throughout your life, have you found it easier to interact with men or women?

Well, I grew up in a household with two brothers, so to me girls were aliens.

As a young man I had to learn through dating what they were like and, you know, didn’t have any girls to interact with growing up. So they were just a whole breed apart from me and, uh,…

So “men” would be the answer to the question because I didn’t have a lot of experience with [women] growing up.

You have two brothers. Do you have any sisters?

No.  No sisters and my mom was just love. So there was never any conflict or fighting or arguing or yelling.

I don’t want to say she was a non entity but she didn’t have to deal with a lot of the things that I see you have to deal with now.  Because she just wasn’t that kind of woman.  Everything was easy and, you know, she yielded to everything and it was a very happy household.

But there wasn’t a lot of the things like [you have] now. The ups and downs, the emotional roller coaster, the hot and cold, you know, the fiery side of women that you can experience.

So I didn’t have to deal with that growing up. I didn’t realize that was part of it.

As a kid, were you closer to your mom or your dad?

Well I would say, I was closer to both of them.

I was very involved in sports and my dad was coach in a lot of it, so I was very close to him that way.  But very close to my mother around the house.

And then they separated when I was in junior high.  [So] I didn’t see him as much for a little while because I was moving into high school and he wasn’t coaching me any more.  I was involved in high school sports. So he was at the matches and games and stuff, but not so much at every practice.

But very close with my mom always.

What’s a memory you have of your mom and dad together?

Just traveling to competitions, and loading up the station wagon with three kids.  And a couple of times a month going to a judo tournament, y’know. Packing up the kids and the food and, just making road trips like that.  [Really] positive.

What were you like as a kid growing up?

Very athletic.  Competed at a very high level at a young age.  National tournaments, nine ten years old.  Traveling around the country.

So basically the family structure revolved around that, y’know.  Working out and competing.  That’s basically what we did.

I did that up through college and beyond, even to this point in my life now.  Still doing it.

What was your major in college?

Pre-med.

What did you end up doing as a career?

New York City fireman.  It’s a great job.  The camaraderie and the friendships that you build.  The things it teaches you.

You walk in the door basically a kid.  And they take and they change you.  They mold you, they turn you into a man, y’know, in ways that other jobs just aren’t allowed to do.

How do you mean, they mold you in ways other jobs aren’t allowed?

Well, I guess everybody frowns upon it.  We call it hazing.  But you have to be stripped of the things you walk through the door with, you know.  All the chips you had on your shoulder.

Because once you put on the gear and you crawl in underneath the heat, it doesn’t matter how tough you were on the street or what race you were or what nationality you are.  Everybody’s covered up and then you’re in a mask with a tank on your back.  You just gotta do a job that’s just… chaos.

It’s frightening at the deepest level and you have to keep your composure and move forward and put all other sensations aside and get the job done.

And when it’s over, you get to stand up like a regular human being and walk out and see what you really just went through.

So they have to prepare you for that and, you know, you can’t take those street egos in there.  It’s a whole ‘nother kind of ego that you go in there with.  But it’s definitely not the ego that walks around on the street [with].

Were you a fireman as a dad? What was it like being a parent and being a fireman?

Well it was great.  Because of the shift work, you’re home a lot.  You get to spend a lot of time at home.

I came to say after a while of being reflective on it, that time and money makes you more of whatever you are.  We don’t make a lot of money, but we do have a lot of time.

You know, with time, you can be different things.

If you’re single and you’re a fireman and you like to go partying, you’re going to be partying a lot more.  If you’re a workaholic, you’re going to have that much more time to work a second or a third job.  And then, when family comes along, you’re going to spend all that time with your family.  You don’t miss anything.

You’re a chaperone on every field trip. All the kids in their class know you.  You’re the cool dad because you’re always around and part of everything.

You’re there to take them to school and you’re there to pick them up from school and you’re part of everything they do.

We work 24 hours at a time. So you have days off in between.  Most people work 40 hours a week. We work 48 hours a week. Still, it’s only two 24 hour [shifts] a week, so you have a lot of time to be dad.

How did you meet your daughter’s mom?

My dog introduced us.

My dog used to escape from my house.  If I was in the firehouse she would go over to my buddy’s house about 3 blocks away

She would literally escape from my house, tear the moldings out from a window, and push it open and get out.  She was separation anxiety crazy.  A whippet lab-mix.  Just totally nervous kind of dog.

I mean, calm when she was with you, but alone, she had separation anxiety.

Anyway, she escaped and she would go over to his house. And he would keep her there.

Dana moved in across the street from him to take care of her sick grandfather, you know, as a temporary thing.

My buddy got to talking to her.  And she said, ‘Whose dog is this? I didn’t know you had a dog.’ And he said, ‘It’s not, it’s my buddy’s dog.’ And she said, ‘Oh, let me take the dog home.’

When I came home from the firehouse and I went over to my buddy’s, so I says, ‘Jet’s not here.’ He says, ‘No, well the girl that lives across the street took her home.  She’s there.’

So I went and got my dog back and said, ‘Whoa! Hello! Who are you?’ That’s how the dog introduced us.

Was it a long time after that when you guys decided to become a couple?

No, no.  She had a boyfriend.  I kinda kicked him out of the way pretty quick.

Yeah, she sad this long curly black hair, long blue dress.  She had just come back from a concert or whatever she was doing.  And she… Whoof!  Wow that looks nice!

It was actually a challenge. Because, after I got my dog back from her and I stopped by my buddy’s house.

I said, ‘So what’s the story with her?  Who’s that?’ He’s like, ‘No you don’t!’ I’m like, ‘WHAT? What are you talking about?’ He’s like, ‘She’s got a certain kind of class.’  And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about!? Are you telling me that I can’t have that!?’ {laughing} And he kind of backed off.

She had a concert two nights later in Northport Community [Center].  She’s part of like an eighty piece community band that plays five Wednesday nights throughout the summer. They do a concert series.

So I went up there with a picnic set of wine and cheese, pepperoni and whatever, set up some chairs.

She had some of her relatives there, and her boyfriend was there.  I kind of set up camp there.

She came over and like, ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘You told me you were going to be playing here, so I came up and wanted to see you.’

And there’s her boyfriend [saying], ‘Who’s this guy?’

I’m the new guy in town {laughs}. And he was pretty much gone soon after that.

[So then] we had a mountain-bike riding date. We rode our bikes to the beach. And we came back.

Right after that I left to go to Atlanta. The Olympics were in Atlanta, I left to go watch them.

When I came back that’s pretty much when we had a first date that… never ended.  I kinda moved in.  It took off right from there.

What did you find attractive about her?

All the girls I dated before, I was out doing all these things — Skiing in Europe, traveling all over, mountain-bike riding and roller blading, going to the beach and things.

And you know, I would do all that by myself and then come home and take my girlfriend out and go to the movie and go to dinner.

She was the first girl I ever met that was doin’ all that stuff on her own.  So I said, ‘We’re heading in the same direction.’

That was like August.  So within a month, you know, two months now, we’re going out.

[I ask her], ‘So, you ski right? You want to go skiing?’  So I come home, she’s got all the plans made to go to Vermont. And I said [geez], I don’t have to do the work.  She’s got the whole plan.  Look at this.

So like I said, instead of me going and doing it by myself, she’s doing it on HER own.

Is that the only thing that attracted you to her?

Look… She’s gorgeous!  She’s gorgeous…

But no, it was the lifestyle.  ‘Cause looks are going to come and go.

You go out with good looking girls, you go out with ugly girls.  After a while they all look either beautiful if you love them or ugly to you if you hate them.  A beautiful woman can look really ugly if you hate her.  And a not-so-good-looking woman is going to look beautiful to you when you love her, so…

What do you think she saw in you?

Well, I don, know.  I don’t know.  That’s a good question.  I’m not really sure.

I guess the confidence to handle a woman of her type-A personality.  She’s definitely a go-getter.  She’s not going to put up with somebody that can’t handle it. We’re definitely both living hard, you know.

I definitely wasn’t ready for that overwhelming personality because I never had anybody with that strong of a personality that knew what she wanted as much as my wife did.  It turns out to be a good thing.

When I came back, I only lived two blocks away, three blocks away. So we were together all the time.  Then we kind of moved in together and got married within a year. Bought a house and the rest is history.

Was it a long time after you were married that you had your first child, your son?

No, because we were both… I was thirty and she was, I guess, uh, she was only twenty-four.  Yeah, we were both ready to go.  Ready to move on with that next stage.

What was happening in your life when your daughter came along?

That was a little bit of a… I wouldn’t say it was turmoil for me, but it was for Dana because I had torn down the house that we bought and I was building us a new one. And she was living in an apartment with the two boys.

[We] pulled up in front of what used to be a house, and now was just an empty lot.  {Laughing} [She stands there] crying with a pregnancy stick saying, I’M PREGNANT!

[I says], ‘The kids are the best part of our lives. What’s so upsetting?’ She says, ‘We don’t even have a house!’ [I says], ‘We’ll have a house. It’ll be there It’ll be okay.’

So [our daughter] Cailyn wasn’t planned, but the two boys were planned.

Were you hoping for a boy or a girl, or did it make a difference?

Oh, at that point I was hoping for a girl one-hundred percent. Yeah, because I had two boys and I said I need, we need a girl to balance out and complete this family.

… Because I know she would go crazy if she had three boys. As much as she loves the boys, she needs a girl.

Were you in the delivery room for your daughter?

Oh yeah, absolutely. It was terrific. I can’t imagine missing that. How do you miss the start of your child’s life? Along with the birth of the other children, that’s the most important day of your life.

To take care of this helpless life that’s going to rely on you for quite a few years to make all of the decisions and do all of the providing for her.  You gotta be there at that moment.

Plus it’s probably the most stressful and dramatic event of a woman’s life and she shouldn’t be there alone.

When my first son was coming out, I’m looking at him, his head is conical, shaped more like a cylinder. And I’m looking at his head and going, ‘Oh my God, he has no face. {laughing} THE BABY HAS NO FACE!’ I’m saying this to myself, not out loud. Then I picked him up and turned him over and, ‘Oh, he’s got a face.’ {laughing}

So what was your daughter like as a little girl?

{He sighs a long sigh}

I guess, I guess they start to develop a little bit of their personality not too many months into life.

You can start to see right away, that there’s a difference between the boys and the girls.  How much they like to be close, right up to your face, touching your face all the time.

The boys were more distant and observant and looking around and seeing the world, and the girl always wanted to be staring into your eyes. You know, she always wanted to be touching your face and to be held and to be whispered to and sang to.

It’s not that the boys didn’t, but the girl was much more so like that.

What was your daughter like growing up?

She’s always been so much fun to be around. And you know {laughing}, it’s funny because no matter how old she is, I always end up saying the same thing to her: ‘Cailyn, I been waiting your whole life to be this age.’ {laughing}

Yeah. So she’s always been fun to be with. You could hold a conversation with her when she was just so little.  She just wanted to talk and talk and talk and just have conversations with you, you know.

As soon as she was able to, you could just sit and talk and talk and talk.  It’s just like best friends.

So yeah, as a young child she was easy to get along with, to be around.  Always happy in her playing.

I think because she didn’t have a sister, she was always very content to, you know, the boys were off doing boy things and she was content playing with the dolls.

Which probably drew me even closer to her because I can’t just tell her, go play with your sister [like] I could tell the boys. She’s just sitting there alone.

Now if you’re sitting there alone, I was going to make sure that you’re not lonely.

[A parent] can’t be that busy.  What could be that important that, while [she] sits there and feels lonely, so…

I was fortunate enough to have spent a lot of time with her.  Her toddler years I was her main care giver.  My wife was at work and I was at home with her.

I layed on the floor with her and played with her and read with her and bathed her and fed her and changed the diapers.

What’s a memory you have of your daughter growing up?

We were up in Canada at the Police-Fire World Games.  I was playing in the hockey tournament up there.

It was the middle of the summer.  Her hair was really blonde from the sun.  And she had on this bright green outfit.  It just went great with her hair and her skin.

I went to go watch the wrestling competition because I had wrestled in college and high school and whatnot.  We sat in rows of chairs, right along the mat.

She was just running around and she HAD all these really tough manly wrestlers all just captivated.

They all just kinda gathered around her, and she just had everybody’s attention.  She was just like, playing the crowd.  I don’t know, maybe she was two-and-a-half.

She wasn’t afraid to be around all these big strong smelly sweaty, you know.  She’d go over and they would pick her up and… she had the whole crowd.

That was a great example of her personality.  Outgoing and friendly and, unafraid.

She’s in school – first grade right? When she started school, what was that like?

It was exciting for her because she had watched her brothers go on the big bus for a couple of years now. And [she’s thinking], Am I going to get to go on the big bus?  So it was very exciting for her.

It was traumatic for me.  I felt a great loss, you know.  And then coming home after dropping her off at school.

‘Cause I’d let her go on the bus, but most of the time I’d drop her off at school just to have the extra time with her in the mornings.  So things could be calm and easy, and she could get to school in a good frame of mind, as opposed to putting her on that frantic bus where everybody’s screaming.  [Instead of] getting to school all frantic, she’s getting to school in a good frame of mind.

Anyway, dropping her off and then coming home to the empty house, and, you know, ‘Where’s my little girl? {whispering} My little girl’s not a baby any more. She’s not a baby, she’s a little girl now, so…’ {Almost crying} That was a tough day. Those were tough days.  But you get used to everything I guess, after a while.

What do you think your daughter remembers most about growing up?

{Long pause as he contemplates}.

Hmmmm.  Probably, uh, probably, I would say, learning to draw. Learning to draw with daddy.

Because we’d spend a lot of time drawing whatever we’d talk about. Whatever we’re talking about, we grab a piece of paper and start drawing.

She’s in the middle of making two books now.

Last night we were sitting just in the living room at the table in front of us. And she came over with a few pages stapled together and she says, I’m making a little book.  So I says, What is this book going to be about? So she says, what do you think it should be about?. So I says, why don’t you make it about the things you like to do.

So we made a list of things she likes to do and she counted the pages and she said, okay, I have seven pages, need seven things to do.

So we wrote seven things that she likes to do and then she drew a picture for each thing on her scrap paper.  Now she’s putting them into the book.

And tonight she’s just sitting in her bed and she drew probably another four or five pages.  She drew a castle, she drew the four seasons, she drew a picture of me and her inside a HEART!

So if you asked her what she remembers about growing up, probably drawing pictures with daddy because that’s what she’d do a lot.

I think it’s a great way, you know [to connect with your daughter].  Whatever you’re talking about, you can stay focused on it for a lot longer if you’re drawing a picture about it.

Because then you can evolve a whole conversation about it.  And make lessons that are going to stick with them a lot longer because they have a short attention span.  If you do something like that, they can focus a lot longer because they’re, you know, working on it.

The idea of drawing with your daughter, was that your idea or hers originally?

I don’t think it was my idea. I think it was just the evolution of the way we went about things. I think it started from doing their homework in, like, pre-school and stuff. You have to do a lot of drawing in pre-school.

So if they had to draw, you can’t just tell a kid, go draw a dog. You know, they get frustrated. You have to draw with them.

So I would draw.  I would take my piece of paper and all the boys would do the same thing.  I would draw a picture and they would try and draw,

[Theirs] might not be as good as [mine]. I’m old and you’re new.  You’re young and you’re new at this.  I’ve been doing this for a long time.  You have to try and do the best YOU can at your picture and, you know, make it simple and easy. That came out of doing pre-school homework together with them.

What was it like seeing your daughter’s drawing of you and her in a heart?

Oh! That was probably the four hundredth heart that she’s drawn with me and her and… they’re hanging all over the place.

How is your daughter similar or different from her mom?

Well I didn’t know her mom as a six year old. But … {he takes a long exhale}

[My daughter’s] really easy going.  She doesn’t worry about things and she doesn’t, ah, {in a lower voice} she doesn’t stress over things.

But then again… hmm… no, I guess six year olds could stress over the same things.  My oldest son was pretty worried about things all the time.

Her mom’s not laid back.  I think, uh, my wife is very goal oriented.  She’ll work her butt off to accomplish any goal that she sets in front of her.

You know, she’s good at everything she sets out to do.  She could be miserable in the process of accomplishing that goal, and just be very satisfied with herself when she accomplishes that goal.

I think Cailyn enjoys the process of doing what she does, and it’s not so much the end result as enjoying it while you’re doing it.

If you’re going to make me sum up her personality different from her mother’s, I would say that’s [how] she’s definitely different.

Have you ever had deep meaningful talks with your daughter?

All the time.  There’s deep meaningful talks about everyday lessons all the time.  Whatever the situation is.

I’m a big safety hound because I’ve seen so many kids in my job [as a fireman]—their lives have been altered because of parental neglect, or failing to think for the child when they’re going to do this or that or whatever, playing or whatever they’re doing.

So on the way to whatever we’re going to do, I might have a conversation with my child, whichever one it may be, about things that parents don’t normally talk to them about.  So they can THINK about what they’re doing, you know, safely and properly.

So they can go and have fun and not alter their life in some dramatic way.

Because the greatest responsibility is to deliver them to adulthood in a safe package.

You can’t stop them from living a life, but you gotta teach them from a young age how to think about going through this life.  If you start early then it will be ingrained in them, so they can do it for themselves at an early age.  And not make the mistakes that other kids make, hopefully.

What makes a great dad and what makes a terrible dad?

What makes a great dad is, uh, putting the thought and effort into the needs of his children, putting them in front of his own needs.

And delivering them safely into adulthood.  Well rounded, well educated, and ready to stand on their own feet and create their own success.

And a terrible dad is somebody who thinks about himself first and, uh, doesn’t have much thought or planning or effort into his child’s life.

Who’s someone you know that’s a great or a terrible dad?

Aside from me, the best dad in the whole entire world, you mean? {laughing}

Which my daughter tells me all the time.

My son Cameron, he tells me, dad, you’re the best dad in the whole entire everything. I’m not exactly sure what that means. But to him it means something pretty good.

But my buddy Nick, up the block, is also a fireman, and he’s a great dad.  He has a lot of time to put into his kids’ lives still.  I see him every day, being a good dad.

My brother is an unbelievable dad.  He has delivered his kids to the point of, uh, college and high school in tremendous shape. Mentally, physically, educationally, musically.  They’re well rounded, they’re well adjusted, they’re confident, they’re great kids.

My other brother doesn’t have any kids.

Can you think of a time when your daughter really needed you as a dad?

Hmmm, let’s see… last Sunday, when she got knocked over on the ice, playing ice hockey.  She looked over at me and I smiled, and she stood up and stuck her tongue out at me and skated away.

‘Cause if I had gone over and handled it in a different way, she may have reacted so that she doesn’t want to do this anymore.

But she got up laughing and smiling and stuck her tongue out and kept skating.

No, those moments happen all the time because I’m there.  I’m coaching her in ice hockey and I’m coaching her in Judo. And she’s just so used to having me right there.

Yeah that’s a tiny little example of the everyday stuff.  But a very dramatic example of her needing me, um… {long pause},

Oh, how about this? She was going to a field trip.  This was a few weeks ago.  I didn’t get the permission slip for one reason or another.

And the teacher either called home or sent a slip home a day before… or two days before.

Is Cailyn going on the field trip? Of course she is. I just didn’t know about it and… I couldn’t be a chaperone on the field trip.  She’s used to me being on all the field trips.

But she was sad that I wasn’t going to be there. You know, I wasn’t going to be able to take the bus with her and…

It’s about twenty miles away, the field trip at State Park [where] they do a nature walk through the forest.

She was a bit afraid about walking through the forest.  Was it going to be like the Wizard of Oz?  Was there going to be ‘lions and tigers and bears oh my.’

So she went on the field trip and I rode my bike up there.  I showed up and parked my bike at the parking area and ran a mile through the trails.

I’m running out of the woods and she looks up from the table.  I’m picturing her in her mind saying, My daddy is running out of the woods. That’s my daddy. DADDY, YOU’RE HERE!

And she says, I didn’t have to walk through the forest without you, and daddy, did you run here? And I said, No, I rode my bike.

That was great. That was a great moment.

How have you impacted your daughter’s life?

Uh… {he exhales a long breath}

Uh… She just knows that she’s loved, she knows what it’s like to be truly loved.

And she knows that she’s lucky and that I’m lucky that we’ve gotten to spend so much time together.  That the girls in her class don’t get to spend the kind of time she gets to spend with her daddy.  She knows that. So she feels as lucky as I feel, that she has a daddy that gets to spend as much time with her as I do.

So she definitely knows that she is loved.

What do you think a daughter wants more than anything else from her dad?

Love.  Understanding. The same kind of thing that every child wants, [for her parent] to say that no matter what I am, that you’re going to love me.

That, uh, like, I have two sons. One is very athletic in football.  The other one, he did all the sports.  Then one day he said, dad I don’t want to do this anymore.  That’s fine.  Now he’s playing music and drawing.

And [I said], Cameron, you don’t have to be successful at playing with a ball to be successful in life.

So a daughter or a son or any child just wants to be loved for what they are. Just to be accepted and loved for whatever THEY are.

And if you can give that to them at a young age, you can give them the self confidence to stand on their own two feet throughout their lives, hopefully.

How do you think your daughter would describe you to her best friend?

Hmmmm. The best daddy in the whole entire world.

And my best friend.

What’s been easiest or most difficult about your relationship with your daughter?

It’s just so easy to be with her. Not a lot of problems. We could spend hours together and not really have any problems.

Uhhhh… {big sigh} the hardest thing is trying to get her to keep her room cleaned. {laughs}

You know, I could do her laundry, wash it, dry it, fold it, put it in the basket.  [And say], you know where all your drawers are.  I’ve been through this with you a hundred times.  Can you put all this away?

Okay daddy.

You go back in there — it just happened tonight, she was laying on the floor.  She has a little step stool to get up into her closet to be able to reach the hangers.  On that step stool is butterflies and dragonflies and lady bugs. And she’s got her book open and she’s drawing all those bugs in her book.

I said, I need this wash basket in order to do the next load of laundry.  So, you know, you have to put this stuff away.

So she dumped the clothes out on the floor, left the wash basket by the front door. {laughing} Okay, there you go, there’s your wash basket.  And the clothes I had just washed are on the floor.  And she’s happily drawing in her book.

Very beautiful butterfly and a beetle and a lady bug and a dragonfly. They’re all drawn in there and the clothes are on the floor.

Do you think daughters get away with more than sons do?

No, she was scolded for that.

What about how your daughter is turning out makes you happiest or saddest?

I’m very happy with the way she’s turning out.  She’s so well rounded and such a happy kid.  She’s smart and she loves to read and she loves to draw.

She might be playing hockey just because she wants to do what daddy does.  That’s okay too.  If that ends tomorrow, that’d be alright.

The only bad thing is that she doesn’t have a sister.  That’s not her fault.  Because I think a girl needs a sister, but… I’m just sad that she may be lonely sometimes.

Can you think of some mistakes you’ve made with your daughter?

{Long pause as he thinks} Hmmm, mistakes…

Yeah, maybe not having enough structure.  To have her so she wants to have her room clean, so she wants to have her stuff look nice — that it matters to her.

I think it’s important to have that matter.  You know, not to clean your room for [us], but to keep it nice for you.  To be a little bit too lax and allow the fun stuff to happen too much to not force that structure.

I think structure’s good.  I don’t have enough of it in my life and I don’t think I gave enough of it to my kids.

To be on time for everything, to have everything put away the right way. Because it’s important to be successful.

You want to get to your job on time, you got to have all your stuff where you want it in the morning.  Or you want to get to school on time, you can’t be spending twenty minutes looking for your sneakers.  You left one upstairs one downstairs, you know, they’ve got to be put away.

Maybe a bit too laid back and enjoying things, and not enough structure.

Is there something you wish you would have done differently in your life?

I wish I could have finished my college career.  I was wrestling on a scholarship and had to go to work.  You know, my family broke up and I gave up my scholarship in college to go to work to try to help my mother keep her house.  That’s a huge regret in my life, not to be able to finish that.

If it were your last day on earth, what would you want to tell your daughter?

{Really long pause, with a few low sighs}

I guess I would tell her, uh, first that I love her.  And to make sure that she lives her life putting the important things first. And that’s the, uh… Measuring your success, it can be done many ways in this world.  The greatest success you have is between your front door and your back door.  So you love your kids the way you’ve been loved, you can call your life a success.

If it were your last day on earth, what would you want your daughter to tell you?

That she’s always felt loved, and that she knows what she needs to do to give [that love] through to the next generation, her kid.

She’s going to live her life, right?  [I’d want to hear], Thank you daddy for giving me everything I needed to get to this point.

Is there something you could tell your daughter about yourself that she does not know or understand?

At this point at six years old, I’m pretty much an open book to her. There’s so many hours of the day, she sees every part of me.

You stumped me on that one, because I have very adult conversations with all my kids.  There’s nothing really that I could say that I hold back, aside from the things that they’re not ready to hear.

Is there something that your daughter knows about her daddy that other people don’t know?

Oh yeah. That he cries when he watches TV. {laughs} Or when he hears a song, that he can start crying. ‘Why are you crying?’ Yeah, big tough fireman.

What’s most surprising about being a dad?

That you are SO willing to give up all the things you didn’t think you wanted to give up before you became a dad. All that time, all that…

You know, I have a friend who never had kids because he didn’t want to give up [anything].  He didn’t want to share his wife’s love, he didn’t want to give up the time that he likes to do all his stuff, you know.

When you become a dad, it’s not sacrifices anymore.  The surprise was that this was not a sacrifice to give up anything.   It was now what I wanted to do.  It was now the most important thing to do.  What you thought was going to be an issue is not an issue.  The sacrifices were not sacrifices anymore. They were just what you wanted to do.  The new priorities.

It was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be because you thought you’d have to give up.  You don’t have to give up.  It’s not important anymore.

What advice do you have for a new dad with a daughter, about being a dad to a daughter?

Learn how to like having tea parties. {laughing} Get used to having tea parties and playing with pocketbooks and lipstick and having your nails painted.  And don’t expect that you’re not going to do it. Cause you’re going to love it {laughing}.

She’s going to get away doing things that you wouldn’t let anyone else do to you, like paint your nails. ‘Okay honey.’ {laughing}

There’s a lot of advice you can give to a guy getting ready to have a daughter.

The love that you have for your daughter is just overwhelming.  It fills you.  It makes you soft.

It definitely changes you as a man.  It changed ME because, like we said before, I didn’t have great female influences in my life.  So to be exposed to all this as a thirty-something year old man was a dramatic difference in the way I went about doing things.  But I loved every minute of it.

If your daughter had not been part of your life, what would be different?

Oh, I wouldn’t be able to understand women as much as I do now.

Not that I have a great understanding by any stretch of the imagination.  But just to see how different they are as human beings, you know, from her brothers.

Just to see that men and women aren’t the same.  We’re different. We think different. We feel different. We have different tolerances. The WAY women think about things is just so different from the way we think about things.

When you have a daughter, all your defenses are down, so that you can see it and you can feel it and understand it. There’s no barriers to that knowledge now because it’s being given to you in such an innocent way.

So how has your daughter affected you?

She’s given me a whole new way to love. She’s given me a whole new way of feeling.  That girl’s love is different than boy’s love.

{slight struggle with the words}.

She taught me how to love in a whole new way.  In a softer gentler way.  In a slower more understanding way.  I had to go slower.

With the boys I knew I was right because I was a boy at one time and, you know, ‘I know what’s going on in your head.’

But I didn’t know what was going on in her head, so I had to sloooooow down and think.

I had to think much more with her.  I had to learn how to be a daddy a little different.  A lot different.  Because I wasn’t sure all the time what’s right with her.

You know, you tell your kid to do something, hopefully you’re sure you’re right.  If you’re not, you’re going to slow down and parent differently.

[Of course] I’ve only gotten through six years of this, so I’m sure, at fourteen and sixteen, god there’s going to be so many questions I’m going to have. {laughs}

But hopefully I’ll continue my learning curve, and hopefully I’ll be able to stay ahead of it.  I don’t know if that’s possible, but we’ll see.

Is it what you expected, being a father of a daughter?

Just like I was saying with the boys, you think you got a grip on it.  I can do this, I know what’s going on.  And your daughter changes you.  She makes you realize that, well, that way’s not going to work with this one.  So you’re going to have to change, cause [she’ll let you know], I’m too little to change.

Yeah, it was definitely not what I expected but much better than I expected. Because I got so much more out of it. I grew so much by being her dad.

But I can see [her] as a teenager.

{big sigh}

Oh god, the ramifications of making mistakes as a girl have got to be so much greater than as a boy.  Because those mistakes are going to be with you for the rest of your life.  Boys can walk away from their mistakes a lot easier.  Some of those mistakes.

Any final thoughts about being a dad, or about your daughter?

Oh, I highly recommend it. You should try it at least three times. {laughing}

Yeah, A life not lived being a parent is half a life.  I tell that to my buddy who didn’t have kids.  I says, You’re living a selfish half a life, you know.  You can’t expect to have fully lived at the end of your days without having gone through this process of making a new generation, making a new branch on a tree.

Yeah, I even bought him a copy of Chicken Soup for the Father’s Soul and gave it to him.  I don’t think it moved him very much.

‘If this book didn’t move you then maybe you shouldn’t be a dad.’  Maybe everybody’s not made to be a dad.  Maybe you are just too selfish to be a dad.

You know, as far as [my daughter’s birth] being an accident, it was definitely intentional on my part.

My wife was surprised. {laughing}  But I was hopeful. I snuck one in there. I batted a thousand that month.  I only had one opportunity [to get a daughter] and it [happened].

[As she grows up] I just hope I never stop saying my favorite saying to her. And we go back to, ‘I’ve been waiting my whole life for you to be this age.’

I hope that every phase, that every age of her life is, uh, as enjoyable as the first couple of stages.

You know, the first month [when] you talk and they can talk back to you, ‘Oh I’ve been waiting your whole life for you to be in this stage.’ And they’re running around and you’re chasing them, and you’re rolling around in the grass — ‘I’ve been waiting…’

So every stage has been that way, even though she’s only six. 

[INTERVIEW END]

Comments

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