13 years ago I became a father for the first time. Shocking as it may be to me, I am now the father of a teenager, and I remember the day like it was yesterday. It’s the day I became a protector. No doubt many fathers share the same experience.
When the nurses handed her to me, she was so utterly helpless. A skinny little thing with twigs for legs and a few tufts of dark curly hair. What I was unprepared for was the overwhelming primal instinct to protect her that hit me when I held her in my arms. This took me aback as the instinct was so powerful and I had never experienced it before. Two years later, the same instinct would return as I held my second daughter for the first time.
Fast forward to today. Each day, I carry with me the echoes of my instinct to protect my girls. To make matters worse, I am a personal injury lawyer.
As a personal injury lawyer, I am a witness to the fallout from the unfortunate, unfair cruelties that life doles out to some. I meet with parents who have lost their children, in car accidents, boating accident, amusement park rides gone wrong and a variety of other unforeseen mishaps. I see the uncontrollable tears across my board room table coming from parents who are struggling to accept their child has been catastrophically injured and will always need support. I see guilt on the faces of parents who feel they have failed to protect their seriously injured children. It wasn’t their fault but they blame themselves. They can’t help themselves.
How does this translate to my life and role as a father? It makes me hyper vigilant. My daughter’s request to ride her bike to the local convenience store conjures up images of police photos showing mangled bicycles sitting in the middle of a roadway. Amputation photos depicting the carnage inflicted by a boat propeller flood my mind when I am faced with my daughter’s request to go to a friend’s cottage. Events as mundane as pool parties, class trips and birthday parties to local attractions cause me to turn to my mental check list of establishments where my clients and former client have been injured because of poor safety procedures. Just as bad is having to bite my tongue as a 16 year old boy thrusts a legal liability release in my face before my girls can participate in an event. He gives no explanation, he has no idea what the release means and he is just doing what his boss told him to do. But I know privately his bosses’ insurance lawyer will be thrusting that release back in my face in the future if I sign it and something happens to my daughter.
Being overprotective versus giving them too much freedom is a difficult balance for me as a Dad particularly because of what I see in my professional life as a personal injury lawyer. I have a front row seat to the many hazards and risks that our world brings. I want to protect my girls from those hazards but at the same time, I don’t want them to live in a bubble; shackled by my fears of the worst case scenario. Indeed, they need to experience the bumps and bruises life throws their way to toughen them up for the future because I know there will be times when the unfairness of life will visit them.
So I ask myself, “how do I strike that balance?” The only answer I conclude is to do my best. It means many times I am the bad guy because I cannot find my way past my experience as a personal injury lawyer and my instinct to protect them. I will say “no” regardless of how much my daughter wants to participate in a particular activity. Other times I will say “yes”, and beat back the fears that experience brings me.
I know many fathers feel the same way. But in doing our best it speaks volumes about us and the love we have for our children.
As the media bombards us with messages about “dead beat Dads” and irresponsible parents, on this Father’s Day let’s take this moment to acknowledge all of the great Dad’s out there. For all of those blessed (as I am) to have a great Dad, know this: No matter what your age, your Dad still feels he is your protector. He’s felt it from the day you were born. You see, to him, you are still that helpless newborn he held in his arms for the first time. You will never know the private pain and worry he carries with him as you go about your life. Take some time today and talk to him. Give him the gift of your time and the assurance that you are doing well. He’ll rest easier knowing you’re safe, even just for one night.
Author: Bill Teggart
Bill Teggart is a leading Ontario personal injury lawyer and has been included in Best Lawyers in Canada for five consecutive years. He represents people who have suffered severe injuries or lost a loved one in car accidents, snowmobile accidents and boating accidents.