A friend of mine is currently sitting on the sidelines – as all men do – as his wife sets about the important business of carrying their first child. He confided that he is trying not to get too excited - that he couldn’t relax until he held the child in his arms. It was a sentiment I empathised with; I’ve been there twice and it isn’t easy to realise you have no control over such an important aspect of your life.
My grandfather, Stanley Simpson, came to Australia as a Ten Pound Pom with his wife and three children. His wife Joan was the daughter of a noble family who had left the ancestral home a few years prior. Joan was educated, a lover of literature, and could trace her family back hundreds of years. Stan had been raised in an orphanage by nuns, heritage reset to zero.
At about the same time, my Nonno, Antonino Margio, left his wife and a young daughter in his native Sicily to settle in Western Australia. My Nonna Maria would join him a few years later and my mother would soon after be the first Australian-born Margio.
These two families moved into their new Australian lives, eventually staring across the road at each other on Snowdon Street, in the West Australian town of Geraldton.
Jump forward and by the age of twenty five, I was a husband, son, grandson, and older brother. I was cutting edge: the latest generation Simpson.
About seven months after I turned 25 my daughter Leila was born. When she opened her eyes I was devastated in all the best ways. I left the hospital in a daze at three in the morning and after climbing the walls, collapsed for two fitful hours of sleep.
I died that night; not bodily but certainly figuratively. Daniel of the shifting ideology and ill-defined morals was crystallised in those two paltry hours into Daniel; Leila’s Father.
Where I had missed meeting my great grandparents by two decades, Leila was born with six living great-grandparents, four of whom were in Western Australia. But this was not the case by the time my son Sam was born two years later.
Sam barreled into the world in the middle of the day screaming blue murder. His face was the spitting image of his sister and I wondered what it meant, to give to someone another person so like themselves. In the short term, Leila found out immediately. That morning she had been my baby girl, helping me weed our front lawn, a green-thumbed two year old. By midday she was our “big girl”, and a large portion of the attention she had previously commanded was shunted towards her little brother.
Between the births of my children I had lost three of my grandparents. My Nonna had finally succumbed to an Alzheimers related illness, and her husband, my Nonno, followed her two weeks later. A week before my Nonno died, we sat in his study looking at books, one last time. I began to sob, overwhelmed at the thought of losing him. He grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “It’s tough, but this is life.”
Less than a year later my Grandma Joan died, leaving behind a family that included a husband, six children, fifteen grandchildren and one great grandchild. Only Granddad remained to see Sam’s birth, before dying himself of a massive heart attack a year later.
The only experience that remotely resembles the irrevocable change the birth of your child delivers is the death of a loved one. When my grandparents died I felt the same irreversible change to my identity. I would never again have the chance to taste my Nonna’s cooking, discuss books with my Nonno, walk with my Granddad, or talk family history with Grandma. I would never again be someone’s grandson.
When I look at my children it would be easy to dwell on their future sorrows, heartaches, illnesses, and failures. They will lose their grandparents. This is life. The risk of loss is the price we pay for the enormous opportunity to love we are given within a family.
Back to my friend, the impending father: I didn’t have the heart to tell him that having that child in his arms wouldn’t alleviate his anxiety. Once we have children a part of us exists – for the first time – independent of ourselves. I know intrinsically that if my children are not happy and healthy then it is impossible for me to be so. One day they will be adults, out in the world. They will move country, get married, lose jobs, have children, win, lose, fail, and succeed. They will be under their own instruction, and whatever they do, wherever they go, they will carry that key to my happiness, risking me as they risk themselves.
Is it too heavy a price to pay? I got the answer just yesterday, taking Leila out for her first skin dive. We were cruising along when I felt her small hand grasp mine. I looked into her wide eyes, and then followed her pointing finger to where a large stingray cruised along the sandy floor. Her courage returned and Leila released me and swam after it with the lazy confidence of a six year old. The ray settled ominously on the floor, eyeing us, causing Leila to bolt back to me, terrified. I smiled, my snorkel filling with salt water. Leila shook off the momentary fear once more and swam off, and though she took a piece of me with her, I was glad of it. We talk of ‘making babies’, but we don’t, really. The truth is more frightening and wonderful.
What we actually create is life.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem