My wife and I have recently celebrated a second child leaving the nest. This time it was our oldest, and our only son. He finally vacated the boarding house that we call our home in order to marry the love of his life and start a home and family of his own. Somebody shout Hallelujah.
Of course, the wedding was wonderful. My wife cried a little, since this was her only baby boy who was now all grown up. Yes, even I may have shed a tear. But this was nothing at all like my daughter’s marriage a few years ago. That felt more like being smacked in the chest with a two by four. I moped around for days after her wedding. After my son’s wedding all I could think about was picking out paint colors for our newly vacant guest bedroom, and feel nothing but pride for my son.
That leads me to ponder why I feel so different about my son’s wedding than I did my daughter’s. I think we were just as anxious for him to move out as he was to leave. But why were we so eager? It isn’t as if we didn’t love him as much. Was it because he had waited so long before moving out? No, I personally think it is because he is a guy.
Even though I love all four of my children equally, each one is different and I relate to them in different ways. When raising them, I have learned that they all respond differently in different situations and what may have been a successful plan of dealing with one child never quite seemed to work the same with the others. When you throw in the gender difference, well that’s when it really gets tricky.
Because my son is both our firstborn and the only boy, I think I set different expectations with him early. You tend to make all your mistakes with the firstborn, regardless of gender anyway. They become the guinea pig for your developing parental skills; the one in which you try out all the things you are reading about in your parenting books. They are the ones who are hit with the highest expectations; the ones most hovered over, and the ones who aren’t supposed to disappoint. If he is a son, and you are the father, that throws another facet into the mix. His expectations are instantly higher because you want him to be a better man than you.
In spite of this, we do our best to show equal love, equal justice, and give equal opportunity to all our kids. My son would probably argue that we were tougher on him, but it only seemed that way because he was the hard headed one who always insisted in arguing his case before every punishment. So much so that I think he should have studied law. His sisters, however, perfected the art of melting into a pool of tears at just the right moment, which can sometimes make a father mistakenly think they have learned their lesson. His sisters also never seemed to test the limits as often as he did.
But getting back to this moment of separation, I think it’s the moment we fathers tend to push more on our sons. After all, they are the “chip off the old block”. We want to see them take charge of their destiny; to get out in the real world and make something of themselves; to pay bills; to find a wife; to be a man. This threshold crossing moment is a cause for celebration when you are a son. This is what we have cheered them on to do. They are now successfully launched.......we hope.
With daughters, a father will always think differently. A daughter’s moment of venturing out into adulthood makes fathers think we are no longer needed. For years we have been their champion; their provider; the one who always tried to make things right. When they leave, they are proving they can stand on their own two feet, and we don’t feel as needed anymore. If they leave and get married, it’s even worse for us. We feel we have been replaced.
Now that my son is successfully launched and I have gained another daughter, (one who calls me “Pops”), I can now settle into a tentatively restful state for a few years. After all, the next two have a while before their inevitable launch time comes. Since they are girls, I'm hoping it is a very long while.