In so many ways I’m the prototypical Millennial. Obsessively chasing my passion? Check. Freelancer? Check. Renting instead of buying? Check. Parent? Woah! I know I can fill that box with a check-mark, but that’s one many Millennials would leave blank. Postponed parenting is certainly becoming one of the trademarks of this generation, but it’s a trademark I’ve neglected, whether intentionally or not is up for debate.
Either way here I am, a former teenage parent of a now teenage daughter. And as the holidays approach I can’t help but to look back on all the previous holidays, the good and the not so good, the struggles and confusion, and the lessons my daughter has taught me along the way.
M.I.A was the reality of the first few years of my daughter’s life. After dropping out of high school and toughing things out for the first year of her life, I got myself together and accepted a full athletic scholarship to a university in New York state. Being from Toronto, that meant committing to only seeing my daughter over the summer for the next four years.
The holidays were even tougher. Our only communication was me listening to her mumble dada on the phone from my dorm room or from on the road in a hotel room. I remember worrying that when I did finally graduate, my daughter would have no idea who I was. That I would be a stranger only familiar by my voice. These were the lonely holidays, but I kept it in the back of my mind that higher education was the right thing for me to do, and it would pay off. It had to.
No masters classes for me. But I headed back to Toronto knowing exactly what I wanted to do, and started working on the manuscript for my first book, taking any and every odd job I could in the meantime. As you could imagine, odd jobs don’t bring home much bacon. That meant the holidays were still a struggle.
And although I was home now, able to see my daughter for the holidays, it pains me to admit that I consciously remember thinking I would rather be hundred of miles away. You see at this point in my parenting journey, I equated my worth as a father to my net worth. And since I was barely scraping by, living in a one bedroom apartment with my girlfriend at the time, dreaming of being Khaled Hosseini but living like the typical starving artist, I felt embarrassed in my ability as a provider, and that embarrassment lead me away from even wanting to spend time with my daughter over the holidays.
Her gifts were small during these times. A Miley Cyrus cd (Hannah Montana days), an easel for her to do her art. One year I remember asking what she wanted and braced myself for the answer. Then when she said all she wanted was a collection of colouring books, I knew she understood. And when she ripped open that wrapping paper and acted like I bought her whatever Apple gadget was hot at the time, then I understood.
Too many thoughts were racing through my head during these holidays. Does anyone really know what it feels like to be not just any parent, but a Millennial parent? How can anyone know what it means to buy your ten year old daughter a cell phone one Christmas, and still have her be the last of her friends to get one. How can they know the pressure this generation puts on you to be a mega success at 25, and feel like a failure if you still aren’t by 30?
All of these thoughts weighed on me daily, but eventually they would become fuel. Eventually I would learn that I'm not or wasn't the only parent going through shit. That although some of the pressures were specific to my generation, the actual root feelings weren't specific to just me.
I had to stay motivated, stay focused on my vision and take the actions necessary to see that vision through to the end.
"Just keep going, Kern."
I repeated that regularly throughout each day. Reminded myself that I wasn't going to be perfect, but if I put in the work, drowned out the other noise, and stayed completely committed to being the best writer possible, then I would eventually be successful.
I know people think that when you have kids there’s this automatic kind of love that comes with it. And of course that’s true to some extent. But what I’ve noticed is that you actually fall in love with your children. As years go by and you watch them grow, you realize that all they really care about is the time you spend together. They actually don’t remember the gifts as much as they remember you being there to watch them open it, or the endless hours spent on the couch watching Home Alone. That time, that familiarity, that getting to know each other; that breeds the kind of love that can't be broken.
The holidays are different now. I’m happy to say I’m forging an amazing career as an author and freelance writer with the flexibility to spend as much time with my daughter as I want. I’ve also fictionalized our relationship from start to end in my debut novella “Thoughts of a Fractured Soul,” which I tell a story around the struggle of finding and maintaining ambition as a Millennial parent.
Her gifts are a bit different now, too. OK, a lot different. But to tell you the truth, she still really doesn’t care. All she wants is for me to be there. And whether I buy her colouring books or the new Huaraches, she smiles the same smile and the bond we’ve forged remains unbreakable through another holiday season.
More from me www.kerncarter.com
Get your copy of "Thoughts of a Fractured Soul," here.