It all started with an e-mail last week – a friend would have an operation on Monday to remove a tumor likely to be malignant. She is younger than me. This e-mail came just 10 days after a 27 year old friend of the family was killed in a car accident in Kentucky, and just over 2 weeks after my grandfather’s stroke.
Life is fragile. Life is something to be appreciated with opportunities explored and moments lived.
And yet, it can end with the blink of an eye… as life is also about change and unpredictability.
One of the challenges that comes with parenting is ensuring that someone will be there to take care of your child if something happens to you. For many families, there are two parents so the idea is that something might happen to one but the other will be there and will maintain the family. When one is a single parent, sometimes, as in my case, there is not another parent in the picture to assume the joy of parenting. I have confronted this question “who will take care of my daughter?” various times since my pregnancy. My daughter confronted this after I was nearly hit by a car a few years ago. She assumed she would be an orphan – she recognized the absence of her dad in that parenting role. I realized that I once again needed to consider who would love my daughter and become her family.
I engaged in this exercise first before she was born. She has, as a result, 4 Godparents. These were people I thought would teach her, guide her, and give her stability and aspects of me and my values.
The challenge, they live on the other side of the country. I was 28 at the time (as were they basically) and we have all changed. Are they still her Godparents? Yes. Would they continue to be a part of her life? Yes, probably in the same sense that they are now. Most of them have not seen her in a number of years. One Godfather hasn’t seen her since her Christening – 10 years.
It didn’t work the way I wanted – the way I had envisioned. But then again, I really didn’t have an idea as to what I wanted or how it would look.
After the near car accident, I again looked at those around me – my friends. Her Godparents remain the same, but her guardianship changed – I asked friends in our area who have a similar lifestyle to care for her should anything happen to me. In my mind, this choice hasn’t changed – but the reality of our lives has in some ways. Her dad now says he would take her if anything happens to me. Her paternal family is now a more active part of her life. She is closer to having a voice of her own that would be heard by the State.
And, because of all of this, I am perhaps more drawn to my desire to have her involved with people who know me and can give her parts of me that are not present in my relationships with family than in the past.
When I had the idea originally, I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew what I wanted but didn’t know how to make it happen. There was no need really either as nothing was going to happen to me; nothing is going to happen to me. Life, however, is anything but predictable. Given all the cancer that has become a part of my life via friends of late, I am not sure that not having a plan is a great idea.
Then I heard an interview with Bruce Feiler, author of the Council of Dads. Faced with his own mortality, he gathered 6 men who would give his young daughters pieces of him. Each would give them life lessons that represented a part of their dad’s personality and character and values. These men became a part of his daughter’s lives. No longer were they just his friends, but they are friends of his daughters as well.
The idea is intriguing. It is the concept that it takes a village to raise a child. It plays on the notion that we can not be or give everything to our kids – but we can give them people who love them and the resources that come with relationships and diversity.
Feiler in the Huffington Post- “He thought of the council as a ‘team of godparents,’ he said, each member chosen for something specific that he could teach Feiler's daughters. Though he is now cancer-free, Feiler still feels that his council is essential, and says that he came to realize that it wasn't about his illness, and it wasn't even about parenting, but rather about friendship. It was about ‘the simple act of sitting down with your closest friends’ and talking about what's important, and Feiler says that we don't do it enough.”
As I stopped to consider the idea for myself and in my own life, I had to consider my friends. My friends are largely my friends; the Godparents are my friends having little involvement with my daughter. That said, my friends here have more of a relationship with her, but not to the extent that I might like.
I think about and consider approaching these friends, asking them to sit a council of sorts. Asking them to be a greater part of her life and giving her different things that I can’t. Feiler writes “That’s what friends are for.” Yet the idea scares me as these are busy people with their own lives. They are the first to stand up and say that I am a fabulous parent and that my daughter doesn’t need…
And what if she does? What if there is something that each of these friends can give my daughter?
Feiler identifies one thing that each Dad can give his daughters.
What if I did that? Could I sit down and figure out what aspects of my personality and character others could give my daughter? What parts of me do I want her to have?
For Feiler, there is the values dad, the travel dad, the nature dad… a dad for the parts of his life that he loves. The girls also have their mom, a parent who will share the man that she knew with them. And they have his family who will share the man that they knew. My daughter would have my family to share the aspects of me. And what about the parts of me that they don’t know – those aspects that only intimate friends could share? Do friends often step up to the plate in such a way without being asked to do so?
I wonder if I need a Council? If my daughter needs a Council to give her me and to be a part of her life regardless? I am not particular to men or women but a mix as that represents my friendships… and what if I asked each to give one thing – to be responsible for one lesson or value or characteristic? And how to dig into myself to discover what it is that I would want each to share with my daughter – the lesson to teach and the gift to give and share?