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A Gift From Manueal
by Leon Baxter
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

How could I have been so selfish? My father-in-law, Manuel, was passing away and all I could think about was me. It was the first week of fall and Manuel (who I’d known nearly two decades) had suffered his fourth stroke in five years. His lungs heaved with pneumonia as his body began shutting down. The family began to prepare for his passing. My father-in-law’s wishes were to be laid to rest in his homeland of Spain. My wife Mary, planned to travel there for the funeral,leaving me alone for a week with Madison and Maya (our two daughters) ages six and one.

No matter how much I felt for the pain my wife was experiencing, knowing how much I’d miss my father-in-law, and regardless of how I knew that this wasn’t the time to be thinking of me, my mind kept returning to the fear I so desperately wanted to bury. The fear of taking hold of both parenting reigns for a week. When my thoughts should have been focused on ways of comforting my wife, I was instead bombarded with... "How will I get the baby to the sitter before work?" "I’ll have to make Madison’s sack lunches." "How will I possibly get both of their hair done each morning?" There’ll be baths, breakfasts, dinners, grocery shopping, bedtime routines, homework, dishes and vacuuming. I’d have to do the laundry, feed the cats, mow the lawn, dump the trash, pay the bills, go to work and still be sure to find some “just having fun” time with the girls.

“Big deal!” I’d yell silently in my head. “What are you complaining about?" Your father is alive and healthy. Your discomfort is over in eight days. Mary will never get her father back.” However, I just couldn't’ shake my egocentricity. Of course, I knew how it would have sounded had I voiced my thoughts. I was aware of my selfishness. I was conscious of playing the martyr. No matter how I begged them to leave, my thoughts remained as we waited for the inevitable.

Manuel left us on a Saturday and Mary left us across the Atlantic to lay her father to rest the following Thursday.

When my wife was pregnant, people would always ask me, “What do you want, a boy or a girl?” I would tell them, “A boy.” It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want a girl. I was afraid to have one. Girls need a mom, or at least someone with a bit more estrogen experience than I had. I worried that... what if one day they didn’t have one. Where would that leave us? I didn’t know how to raise girls.

I knew the boy stuff though. I’d lived it for crying out loud, but girls? When do they start wearing make-up? When is it okay for them to shave their legs? Is it with the hair or against? At what age do I let them date? What about bras? Plus, God forbid, I’d actually have to make decisions on my own in the feminine hygiene aisle (pads, tampons, maxi, thin, wings...)

The moment my two children were born and I saw that they were girls, I loved them more than I knew was possible. All of my fears of raising them alone, disappeared... until now.

Things ran smoothly at first. I definitely found a rhythm... getting up early and going to bed late. I’m sure I could have made things easier on myself, but I tried to keep my daughters living a two-parent lifestyle with just one parent. Some of the highlights of our eight-day adventure included; hosting sleepover party, doing Madison’s hair for her class picture (after six attempts, two broken barrettes, and countless tangles, she left the house wearing a stylish coiffe),an impacted baby at midnight attempting to give birth to a poop that would be illegal in 31 states, and a 4:00 a.m. surprise visit from the Stomach Flu Fairy.

One morning after I’d duct taped my head to the minivan’s headrest (and trying to evade nodding off as I drove to work)I was jolted to reality by the lyrics of John Mayer’s “Daughters” as it played on the radio. “Fathers be good to your daughters/ daughters will love like you do.” I stayed awake wondering if Mr. Mayer was a father. If so, was he right? I sure as hell hoped so, because during these eight days, I discovered that the love I had for my daughters had grown stronger and deeper than ever. Along with bloodshot cornea, sleep deprivation, and bags under my eyes so big that I started packing my lunches in them. Our eight days were filled with Daddy Horsey Rides, living room wrestling, cookie baking contests, hugs, cuddles, and rib-aching laughter.

Needless to say, though, when Mary returned home, we were thrilled to have her back. That first night of her return, after the girls were finally asleep, my wife told me about her trip. Instead of it being a heart-wrenching experience, she shared with me the stories she learned from her relatives about her father. The trip was incredibly fulfilling for her. Mary had actually grown closer to her father although he was gone.

Five-hundred people from neighboring villages came to pay their respects to Manuel. He’d been a giver and a provider in life, doing all he could to ensure his family was safe and secure.

I got to thinking about my earlier worries and I realized, it wasn’t so much selfishness that I was experiencing, but more fear. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to give my daughters all they deserved. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to provide for them as their mother can. I didn’t, I couldn’t, no matter how much I tried, fill their mom’s shoes. After listening to my wife talk about her father, I understood that I didn’t have to.

Like John Mayer’s song tells us, we fathers have such profound affects on our daughters’ lives. As long as they see us trying, know we’re caring and feel us loving, they will love, look up to and respect us. “You are the god and the weight of their world.”

As a last gift to me, a gift I didn’t know I’d received until long after it was opened, Manuel gave me those eight days with my girls. Eight exhausting, non-stop, stress-filled, beautiful, loving, magical and bonding days. Days that will live on in family lore as “the days Mama left”, but also as the days I grew closer to my daughters.

Thank you, Manuel.


Leon Scott Baxter is a West Coast writer who lives with his wife and two daughters in California. To see more of his work, go to

Published: Nov 29,2008 17:19
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