I was never that fussed on having children. I know you’re not supposed to say that, but kids just never registered on my life’s ‘to do’ list.
As the years rolled by after our wedding day and we were unable to get pregnant, my concern was not that we would go through childless, but that my wife, Danelle, would go insane. She had so set her heart on being a mother, that to not be able to get pregnant was the worst fate she could imagine.
In the end we had 10 childless years as a married couple, which meant we had lots of holidays, lots of space in our lives and the chance to smash the mortgage a bit more than couples who did the ‘kid thing’ early. I enjoyed the freedom of those years and as a bloke who had never had much experience of children I quite literally didn’t know what I was missing.
It wasn’t that I was ‘anti-kids’. I was agnostic about children – unsure if they would add or subtract to our lives, or if I would even like being a father. If Danelle had given up the pursuit for children before we launched into the IVF process I think I would have been quite content to spend my life childless.
But we did go through the IVF process and became pregnant on our first attempt. Even then it still didn’t register for me in the way it did for Danelle. I knew that somewhere in the distant future we were going to have a child. I hoped that would be something I would enjoy, but it felt like anticipating a holiday in Mongolia. It could be good, but you never know… Danelle moved from despair to elation as we prepared for this child while for me it was business as usual but with pre-natal classes thrown in.
Then it happened.
Around 8pm one night we rushed off to hospital and spent the night there before Ellie was born early the next morning. If ever there was a ‘before and after’ moment in my life then this was one of them. After the birth the nurses needed to take Danelle away for a bit of ‘after-care’ and they asked me if I’d like to hold her while they were gone.
‘Sure’ I said, but I was completely unprepared for what came next – for the torrent of emotion that stirred me, melted me and confused me all at the same time.
I had a daughter and now I was feeling things I’d never felt before. It was like someone had flicked a switch in me and suddenly activated ‘dad mode’. I didn’t even know I had a ‘dad mode’, but I knew now I was happy to be a dad and I wanted to be a good dad. I was glad my first child was a daughter as I grew up in a home where men shook hands and cuddling was for girls. I genuinely wasn’t sure how I would manage cuddling a newborn boy, so having a girl felt like a win.
I remember doing some random reading about the development of girls one day as part of my job as a youth worker and one of the pieces of research that left a mark on me was the finding that teenage girls will rarely go ‘looking for love’ in all the wrong places if they know without a doubt that they are loved by their father. I wanted her to know that anyway, but this information made me a little more intentional about it. I did not want her ever wondering if ‘daddy really loved her’.
And while this may sound simple and unspectacular, from the moment she could understand words of some form I began to tell her about ‘all the little girls’. I would go into her room at night, pray with her, cuddle her and then I’d look in her eyes and ask her a question:
‘Hey, have I ever told you about all the little girls?’
‘No?!’ she’d say, without fail every time (and often with a degree of mock surprise). This was my cue to tell her one more time.
‘Well… if I could have all the little girls in the whole wide world and put them in a big, big, big, long line, up and around the moon and back, and if I was only allowed to choose one little girl, to be my little girl, my best and my favourite, my kindest, bravest and most beautiful by far, do you know who I’d choose?’
‘No?’ she’d say (without fail every time) and then she would look directly into my eyes and wait for the answer – the same answer as every time.
‘I’d choose you – every single time.’ I’d see her eyes smile, and she’d hug me. I’d like to think that smile was from the security of knowing without doubt that her dad loves her – that he always has and always will.
As a child she would often ask me to tell her about all the little girls – sometimes several times a day. Over the years as Ellie got a little older and matured into a beautiful young woman, she didn’t ask as much to be told about ‘all the little girls’ and now as a teenager she doesn’t ask at all, which is fine and appropriate.
But there are evenings even now, when I will randomly wander into her room and ask her ‘Hey have I told you lately about all the little girls?’ and she will stop what she is doing and look me in the eye and say ‘I don’t think you have.’
And that’s my cue.
(published with Ellie’s permission)