“A little pebble hitting your child hurts you more than a boulder crushing your own bones.” That is something I’ve heard my family elders repeat time and again when one of us children would get sick or hurt. I never really understood it until I became a father.
For the past 16 years, my priority in life has been raising the most precious gift God has given me: my daughter. Everything I’ve done during every day of these 16 years was geared toward her happiness and future.
The day she was born, I felt truly important. The very same second I was informed my wife had given birth to her, an explosion of new sensations overcame my mind and heart. I felt as though, suddenly, I had a physical extension in this world. I realized that I had become the reason a new human being existed, and that this human would become my responsibility until my last day.
The most beautiful responsibility.
Food, shelter, education, and security are basics owed to our children. There’s no heroism in giving them and no credit to be demanded. Perhaps a little, if your finances are challenged and you work extra hard to provide these things. Otherwise, it is the moral contract you sign when your children are conceived.
Being a healthy, well nourished, well educated future woman doesn’t mean my daughter will be safe once she’s grown and ready for independence. Although education can play a huge part, it is not enough to put her out of harm’s way. Our daughters can become smart enough to not walk dark alleys and can earn enough to live in guarded towers. But the devastating danger of bringing the wrong man into their lives could be the danger that destroys them.
That is why I added empowerment and confidence to the list of basics that I owe my growing daughter.
Last year, my little girl was diagnosed with scoliosis. About a year before the diagnosis, we had spent many beautiful days on Caribbean beaches, and I never noticed anything wrong with her back. Neither had she. Even today, I still do not understand how something like this could have developed in such a short period: two curves in the spinal cord and a twist in between, causing her right shoulder to become lower than the left, with a visible bump just beneath it.
I still give her everything a father should, but now, more than ever, I give extra doses of confidence. She stopped wearing most of her tops. Now she prefers only loose fitting ones. She won’t go to the beach with us, and when I insist, she stays in a t-shirt. It breaks my heart how she has lost confidence in her body.
I wish it was me who had scoliosis. But wishing will not help.
It must be difficult for a girl to grow up without a mother. It must also be difficult for a teenager to deal with the first years of hormonal changes. Now she has a physical imperfection to deal with as well.
I’ve never allowed her to sense my sorrow regarding this issue. She has never seen me cry. I’m usually good at restraining my tears, up until I enter her room at midnight just before going to bed so I can make sure she is well covered and hasn’t forgotten any scented candles burning. I choke up sometimes as I kiss her on the head, partly because of her magnificence and partly because I can’t help feeling guilty about her back.
Last week, as we left the physiotherapist’s clinic, my daughter told me that she had a very interesting conversation with him. He told her about how lucky she was for not having more than scoliosis. She said the gentleman told her about how he also works with patients her age and younger who have partial paralysis or have lost limbs.
That same night, she made a joke about changing her name to Quasimodo on account of her back.
It took me a couple of days to figure out whether her sudden openness about her condition signified a genuinely positive outlook, or whether she had noticed how secretly distressed I was and had resolved to cheer me up.
I asked her how she felt after eight months of physiotherapy. She said she went online to learn about other sick teenagers, and that this helped her appreciate how little she’s enduring compared to all the kids with cancer and similar predicaments. She said that after reading some of those children’s stories, she felt like a brat for ever wanting to complain.
It seems that this teenager, my daughter, is the one who is pulling herself (and her dad) from the grief of scoliosis. She has found the logic to face it and live with it. The pain of the boulder that hit me is going away now, too, thanks to her. For the first time in about a year, I am able to confront it and write about it.
Now, when I look at my daughter’s back, I don’t see an imperfection. Rather, I see another beautiful part of my beautiful daughter. Why did I not see this from the beginning? Scoliosis has not blemished her beauty. She brought beauty to scoliosis.