Mijo. Pronounced mee-hoe.
Mijo - Conjoined Spanish slang of affection. Mi hijo, "my son."
18 years ago today I was sitting in the Infant ICU at West Paces Ferry Hospital in Atlanta cradling a 7 pound, twelve and a half ounce bundle of pure wonder. [Written Friday, 8/15/08.]
Daniel was in the IICU because he was exposed to infection over the course of a difficult 41-hour labor. I was there for every minute including the moment he was born via c-section. It was surreal. Becoming a dad is quite a rush...I can only speak from the male perspective – but mom was pretty happy too (in spite of it all).
Disclaimer: How one parents is a highly personal matter. All children are different and seem ‘hard wired’ in certain ways – each child a unique individual. I’m neither telling anyone else how to parent their children, nor am I judging others who do it differently. I am just relaying my experience and my unique circumstances. My only parenting advice would be to love your children, know your children, talk to your children and help your children. I think if you do all those things you can’t go wrong.
I was 38 when my son Daniel was born. By that point in my life I had worked a fair amount of the foolishness out of my system, had become a serious researcher and had achieved at least some portion of my goal of becoming a thoughtful, considerate and rational human being. So when I got the news that I was to be a father, I went to work on becoming prepared.
Putting first things first, I set out to learn the basics of pre-natal nutrition. Prenatal vitamins, a healthy diet of fresh foods, lots of good high quality protein, watch out for things like mercury in tuna, go with organic produce as much as possible to avoid pesticides, no drugs or alcohol – those are the basics.
Among the things I learned is that newborns see high contrast best (as opposed to colors) and that infants are predisposed to recognize the shapes of faces and basic geometry, so I bought a mobile made with those insights in mind.
I learned about pregnancy from a to z. The details are mind-blowing and imbued with a strange ethereal beauty. Unlike those things that when studied, one finds the magic dispelled, the more you know about the process of pregnancy and childbirth the more magical it seems. You can know every detail and the mystery of it doesn’t go away – even under scientific scrutiny it never ceases to be a wonder. Maybe even a miracle (if there are such things).
I learned the importance of providing visual and mental stimulation...and how not to over do it.
In addition to my reading, I spent a lot of quality time discussing our impending parenthood with Daniel’s mother. She was never spanked growing up and she turned out fine, I was and, well you know what a mess I am...got me to thinkin’.
[BTW, when I write about Daniel here, his mom usually gets left out. My bad. She deserves much of the credit for this kid.]
My tough guy soldier father from the Mississippi delta was a good man but had been raised to believe that old saw, ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. I recalled what it was like being beaten as a child. I remembered the fear and resentment, and how unfair it seemed. I recalled how terrified I had always been of him as a result. I remembered how strange it felt to be both terrified of and in love with my father (so to speak). I decided that I never wanted my son to be terrified of me, or to have a reason to resent me. I made a firm resolve to NOT parent as I was parented to (as they say most people do), but to do it very differently.
It’s probably fair to say that Daniel has been an easy child. There was a brief period of colic when he was a baby that was challenging, but other than that no real trouble from this kid. So it may not have worked with any other child, I can’t say, but with Daniel I was able to raise a fine son without ever raising a finger to him. And the closeness, love and goodwill that we share between us are things for which I would not take anything in this world.
Some people believe that you have to be tough on kids to toughen them up for the real world. I figure the real world will toughen them up all on its own, and what they need from us is love and support.
Raising a child without corporal punishment or the threat of it (not judging) does require that you speak to and reason with your child more than you otherwise might. You answer a lot of questions and you explain yourself frequently, which is good for you AND the child in my view. In the process you teach the child to reason and to think things through – and being willing to explain yourself keeps you honest.
Parenting is a tough job filled with small treasures. When storms would blow through the trees in our backyard I’d carry baby Daniel to the back window and say ‘look Daniel, the trees are dancing.’ One day we’re driving down the road, little Daniel in his car seat, when he says, ‘Look dad, the trees are dancing.’ It’s hard to explain how much that touched me or why, but every parent will understand. There’s just something about when it comes back to you.
We’ve come a long way since that moment and there have been many such moments along the way, the small treasures of parenthood.
My son Daniel was born in 1990. I didn’t push martial arts on him but when he got old enough and asked to learn I took him to the best school I could find, the Chinese Shaolin Center and signed him up. I signed up with him. Together we studied Shaolin kung fu. Our Sifu (teacher) was Michael Reid, former linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons.
I have made every effort to never tell Daniel what to do or what to think – I have always endeavored to teach him how to think for himself. I remember him asking as a young tot why we should use good manners. So others will enjoy our company I explained. That made perfect sense to Daniel. I never had to explain it again.
His mother and I have attempted to stimulate his curiosity and support his learning without pushing or pressuring him. We have allowed and encouraged him to make his own decisions. It was his decision to attend YKOS in ’07, to form an interest in politics and to march with me in Washington DC.
I was surprised last year when I asked my son Daniel (then about to turn 17) if he wanted to go with me to Yearly Kos. I thought he’d pass, but he said, "yes, I think I would." The extent of his exposure to politics up to that point had been listening to his old man rant, and I figured he only half-listened to that, but he surprised me. The first speeches we caught at YKOS were Andy Stern of the SEIU talking about the labor movement and Howard Dean talking about the Presidential race and the Democratic party. I watched Daniel paying rapt attention. As he hung on every word, I realized I was watching a political awakening.
Daniel used to sit on my lap as I worked on the computer, occasionally reaching up and banging some random keys to help out. It’s hard to put my finger on the exact moment where his knowledge of computers surpassed my own but it happened quite a few years ago. He sometimes gets a little exasperated with me because the intricacies of DOS are not in my DNA. (Dad, just edit config.sys and make sure STACKS is set to at least 12,256.)
There has been a similar point of passage in terms of general knowledge. Again I find it hard to pinpoint just when it occurred. All I know is that increasingly I find myself listening to Daniel and learning rather than teaching. He is infinitely smarter than I am, and with any luck at all, will go far in his life.
Daniel would later have the opportunity to spend a good bit of quality time with Ben Masel, a wise and erudite veteran of the struggle against right wing madness in America and claude, who was an original San Francisco Digger and a key player in the underground press movement of the 60s. Daniel absorbed their wisdom like a sponge.
He later got to meet Markos, Dallasdoc and a host of other DailyKos luminaries, and he relished every moment. The YKOS experience was deeply transformative for Daniel as it was for many of us.
That’s all I’m going to say about Don [Siegelman] right now other than to tell you what a pleasure it was for me to introduce him to my son Daniel, and how gratifying it was to renew our friendship after all these years.
When I announced my intent to raise my son without the ‘benefit’ of corporal punishment, there were predictions of disaster by well-meaning friends and family. You can’t raise a child without discipline I was told. My thought was teach a child self-discipline and there will be no need for the externally imposed variety. As far as Daniel is concerned, I seem to have been right. We have never attended a family reunion or similar gathering where Daniel’s behavior was not complimented. He consistently does me proud (as we say down South) without even trying. I thank the Universe and what gods may be for this extraordinary young man every day.
Daniel often blesses me with his wisdom. I think of myself as a soul with some serious wear on the tread but Daniel seems a much older soul than I. To illustrate what I mean I offer you his first dkos diary, Fire + Fire = More Fire. It was written without any prompting from me and without my knowledge. I picked him up to go out to dinner one night and he casually mentioned, "Oh by the way, I posted my first diary earlier." The diary itself blew me away.
So Daniel. You’re eighteen and starting college. That’s big stuff. I know you’ll do well. Whether you end up pursuing linguistics, neuroscience or some other of your interests, I know you will flourish. It’s who you are.
I love you son with all my heart and soul. Thank you for all the joy and wonder you have brought to my life.
Happy birthday mijo.