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first person

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Illustration by Rachel Wada

When my wife announced she was pregnant some 35 years ago, I was operating on a strict “no children” policy. I had lived through adverse childhood experiences while growing up on three continents. Why would I want to start a family?

So I fumed and fussed for days. I fantasized about running away to escape these responsibilities, maybe to Mexico or further. Since my own father and I had always lived on separate continents, this would be the best way to handle it wouldn’t it? Surely I could extricate myself from this relationship and regain my freedom? But while pacing back and forth in our backyard, I saw something that briefly took my mind off my dilemma: our neighbour’s bamboo bush.

Last year, it snuck under the fence into our yard and they offered to remove the shoots. But I declined and said they were fine, “We’ll enjoy them.” I laughed cynically at the memory as it turned into an epiphany: I was receptive to a bamboo bush making a home for itself in our yard, but wanted to block an embryo from becoming part of our family! I was, at the very least, a total hypocrite.

From that moment on I had a new outlook. I would soldier on, help take care of the child and see if I could be a better father than my dad had been. I would be there for her or him and hopefully, the child would thrive.

As we moved closer to the due day, I often talked to the baby while stroking my wife’s belly. “Hi Zy,” I’d begin, before saying anything else. We had chosen Zy, short for zygote, as its nickname, a real name would have to wait until we knew the gender.

Months later, the contractions began and after a lot of pushing and pain, “It’s a boy!” penetrated the hubbub of the hospital delivery room. “So, does he seem healthy?” I asked the doctor examining our newborn. “Why don’t you come over and have a look?” He was so little … and loud. “Hi Zy,” I blurted out. During his next indrawn breath I said it again: “Hi Zy, you’ve come out to join us?”

And then the miracle happened. Zy stopped crying and tried to focus on the voice he must have recognized. But the real miracle was how deeply I fell in love at that moment. I grabbed our swaddled little treasure and carried him over to my wife because I knew that if our baby could recognize my voice in that noisy setting, he would surely be comforted when hearing hers. Our son settled right down and the rest is history. Taking him to our first little cottage a few days later was the most exciting journey we had ever been on. We were beginning a new life together.

A quarter of a century later, I was reclining on the back deck of our second home. Adrian, my first-born, and his younger brother have more or less moved out, and I was watching the warm wind make a poplar tree dance and sway in the evening breeze.

This backyard also had a bamboo patch and an even prettier dance was going on in a 20-foot high clump of it that had totally refused to be tamed. It swayed and hovered with a slight trill on each gust, then it would rotate back in the other direction.

This bamboo dance reminded me of my bamboo-bush epiphany years ago, when I wasn’t so sure I was cut out for fatherhood. I had opted for being a dad back then. How had it all worked out?

Well, for the record, it had gone pretty decently. Both boys have good jobs, partners in life and Adrian now has a couple of boys of his own. We raised them with love, encouragement and plenty of excitement. They let me be their coach in soccer and baseball, and I even helped at rugby camp so that Adrian’s younger brother could get the free hotdogs. There was also skiing in winters, camping and canoeing in the summer, and cycle trips across parts of Europe.

Our boys experienced some challenges growing up. What kid doesn’t? But my biggest concern was that they weren’t encumbered with unhappy memories of their early years. That may have been my experience, but I suspect it wasn’t theirs, and for that I am grateful.

I was a good father and I plan to be a pretty good grandfather, too. Being there for my boys was the most important thing I could have done, and it was so fulfilling that I often felt sorry that my dad had missed out on raising us. He would help raise a daughter later in life, but passed away in 1995 when she was just 18. In the past few years, we have started to reconnect with my father’s second family. Sometimes it seems that with the right attitude, what comes around goes around.

Frank Tichler lives in Vancouver.

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