On our nightly walk, I watched our two boys charge ahead of me and my husband. The sun was dropping down, there were gnats flitting golden in the almost-evening light. I could smell star jasmine. Our boys' legs looked so long, and they can get too far ahead.
I grabbed my husband's hand and said, "I don't know what I'd do if anything ever happened to one of them. I love them so much."
"I know," he said. "That's why I was so afraid to have kids."
My husband lost his father six months before we met. He lost his mom a year and nine months before we got married. Once we were married a few years and I started wanting to have a child, it took my husband an excruciatingly long time to decide he was ready to have kids.
All I could think about was what we would gain by having children. After so much loss, all my husband could think about -- when picturing his own child -- was what he would stand to lose.
Sometimes I think it's a miracle we got past this fearful place and went on to have not one but two sons (although deciding on #2 wasn't any easier).
It's impossible for me to imagine parenthood without my own mom and dad along for the ride. Without your own parents, who's there to tell you that you can do it? That the love you experience is worth all the fear and then some? Who's there to nod when you say parenting is hard? Who's standing strong to show you that you will survive? Who do you go to with hard questions even when you honestly believe they don't know the answer any better than you do?
I know, for thousands of reasons, many of you parent without parents. And it seems, because life is life, that parents can teach us one of two things: what we want to be like or what we don't want to be like. But when we lose a good set of parents too soon and they're not here to teach us any longer, we're just left to long for every good and bad thing about them.
From an outsider's perspective, losing your parents, especially much too soon, is awful. And losing any chance that your kids will know, love, and be loved by their grandparents makes the wound even deeper.
But my husband is strong -- although none of this stuff has been easy. He is also a good man and a good dad. He does his best every day without the helpful guidance of his parents.
Sure, he observes other dads in our life. All the time. But maybe more often he counts on the fumes of memories to tell him what his dad was like as a father and how he experienced that fathering as a boy. I've seen him try to call up an old child remembrance and mold it into something he can use. It's not always the perfect tool but sometimes in parenting, you just have to do what feels right to you. You just have to use what you were given.