Parenting Needs to Be Experienced to Be Fully Understood

Parenting is a side effect of sex. That doesn’t sound right. Parenting is the art of raising a child. That’s too fluffy and nondescript.

Parenting needs to be experienced to be fully understood, and each experience is different. Let’s go with that. My daughter Stephanie has always been drawn to children and started babysitting at age ten. That helped motivate her to become a teacher – no, check that – a caring teacher devoted to helping her students. You remember teachers like that, don’t you? Stephanie is pregnant with her first child. She and her husband Mark couldn’t be happier or more excited. Into her second trimester, new emotions of anxiety and fear enter their lives as pain and bleeding force her to the hospital. The doctors can’t do the testing needed because it could place the baby at risk. Stephanie makes it clear they can’t do anything that puts her child in danger.

The pain and bleeding get worse leading to more hospital stays. Mark is asleep when Stephanie makes her decision. She confides to her unborn child, sharing her deep dark secret. Steph believes she has cancer. Knowing how crazy it sounds, she hasn’t told anyone else. Steph then writes in the child’s baby journal: My top priority is to have a healthy baby, so I keep telling myself to tough it out and keep my eye on the prize. You are that prize, little one. I love you and pray you are all right. Stephanie is becoming a parent. I can’t sleep the night before my daughter’s C-section. For the first time in Stephanie’s pregnancy, I am terrified. Worry about the delivery and fear of the unknown blocks out everything else. As I sit in our kitchen, she smiles at me from pictures on our refrigerator as if to say everything will be all right. My eyes well up as I wonder if I take her love for granted, and memories of Steph as a child flood my mind.

The first time I accept full responsibility for my daughter is when my wife Colleen, getting a much-deserved break, goes to dinner with girlfriends. It leaves a lasting impression. We are doing great and then an hour into our adventure Steph begins to cry. No problem, I’ve been changing diapers, burping, and rocking her to sleep for weeks, so what could go wrong? The diaper is dry, she doesn’t want a bottle, and the faster I rock, the louder she cries. I lay her on a blanket and bring out the toys. She senses I’m not getting it and believes if she screams louder, I might understand. I start to sweat and become more flushed than she is. As I promise her anything, the phone rings, and it’s Colleen asking. “Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“You think so?”

“Well, your daughter won’t quit crying, but I’m handling it,” I lied. “Why did you call?”

“We just finished dinner, and my milk let down. Sometimes that happens when the baby cries, so I thought I would check in with you.”

What is this, some alert system that goes off when I fail at being a good father? I come clean and tell her I don’t know what else to do. My wife laughs and says she is on her way home. Stephanie melts into Colleen’s arms, nurses, and falls asleep. She just wanted her mom. Thankfully, I will improve, and soon she becomes a Daddy’s Girl. Over the next sixteen years Steph grows into her five-foot-two-inch trim frame, topped off with long brown curly locks.

We remain a tight-knit family even as Steph and her brother Scott become adults. Our home is a refuge where they can escape, remember simpler times, and get advice. It’s great to help each other deal with life’s business, and Steph hasn’t run out of questions to ask. We try to provide honest if not wise answers. “Daddy, can I live in the Disney Castle?”

“No sweetheart, no one really lives there.”

“Daddy, will I ever fall in love and get married?” “Yes, honey, I’m sure of it.”

“Dad, how do I know if he’s the right one?”

“Because you won’t be able to live without him in your life.”

“Dad, do you think we will ever have kids?”

“You are so loving and patient with children that I’m sure you will have your own.”

The questions become more challenging as the children grow older.

“Dad, am I going to die?”

The day after answering that question, I began writing a journal to our grandchild.

In each person’s life, some events forever change their course.

Stephanie experiences two in as many weeks. The birth of her first child and news she has an eight percent chance of living. At twenty-seven she is haunted by one question: Will my baby only know me through videos and pictures?

This story is about love, hope, and survival as three generations of a family respond to a crisis. The newborn’s deep brown eyes and unconditional love fuel Stephanie’s courage. Her faith comes from the belief that something greater than ourselves provides us with what we need, when we need it. Her maternal instincts tell her she must survive to raise her child, and that above everything else defines her quest. Love is the bond that holds us together in hard times and helps us celebrate good times. Hope keeps us moving forward.

The above is an excerpt from Daddy's Girl: A Father, His Daughter, and the Deadly Battle She Won (March 2023; Armin Lear Press) by Michael Schnabel. All Rights Reserved.


Michael Schnabel is the author of Daddy's Girl, a memoir about the challenges and struggles of parenting through a medical crisis. A graduate of Northern State University, Michael developed his passion for writing and storytelling during his thirty-year career at Bristol-Myers Squibb. Michael lives in Overland Park, Kansas, with his wife, and when not spending time with family, you can find him tending to his 26-acre tree farm. Daddy's Girl is his first book. For further information visit,


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