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 checkmark, 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 summer holidays loom before us, 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.
That was the situation for the first few years of my daughter’s life. After dropping out of high school and toughing things out for the first year, 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 Christmas 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, and when she said all she wanted was a collection of Robert Munsch 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.
I know people think that when you have kids there’s this automatic kind of love that comes with it. Maybe 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.
The holidays are different now. I’m happy to say I’ve forged an amazing career as a 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 trying to remain ambitious 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 her favourite pair of Jordan’s, she smiles the same smile and the bond we’ve forged remains unbreakable through another holiday season.
But the holidays have always been an intriguing time for me, both as a parent and as a representative of my generation. Any freelancer will tell you that no time of year is a slow time of year. Either you’re out making money or chasing it. Fortunately for me I’ve been making a lot more than I’ve been chasing lately, which is why I was looking forward to this holiday in particular.
It wasn’t too long ago when I was chasing the money. When I would take whatever a client was willing to pay me so long as it got me through another week I could actually buy groceries. When I woke up 6am every morning to work on my first book, then head to whatever part time job I had during the afternoon and come back to my one bedroom apartment and blog at night.
It was a difficult time, but I was on a mission to be a writer. To wake up at 6 and write all day without having to worry about any part time job washing cars, or selling shoes, or giving out bingo tickets. And that mission meant sacrificing, whatever it took, holidays and all. My ambition wouldn’t have it any other way.
I know what you’re thinking. Who hasn’t read at least one article about a Millennial? About us being over ambitious or entitled, about us caring more about our passion and feeding our ambition than any kind of security and perhaps common sense.
My girlfriend at the time was a great cook, so Thanksgiving was always filled with food. And apart from me loving my gut, I loved the fact I didn’t have the pressure of buying a gift for her or my daughter. But Christmas always made me uneasy.
But I wonder how that changes when skeptics describe me? Do they still criticize me for choosing a freelance life? Do they say I’m a bad parent because I ditched teachers college to write books and blogs?
Would they question my success? Tell me I spend too much on my daughter’s portfolio art class, or that I shouldn’t of bought her first pair of timberland boots last Christmas and surprised her at my Queen street condo? Would they gawk at the gift I plan to get her this year? (She reads my blogs so I won’t give it away).
Do they really know what it looks like to be not just any parent, but a Millennial parent, who had my now teenage daughter when I was just a teenager myself. How could they 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 aren’t till you’re 30?
Could they know my daughter spared me one Christmas when I was dead broke and only asked for a colouring book. I knew that’s not what she wanted, but she knew that the writing I was doing then couldn’t afford any other gift.