Only A Daughter Can Change A Grumpy Old Man

A Grain of Salt | ElbyJames
9 min readAug 11, 2018


Do you remember what it was like before your daughter was born? Do you remember the effect her birth had on you? Do you even want to go back to living life without her in your life?

I always wanted to be a father, as far back as high school I can remember longing to be one. Throughout my life, this feeling of being a father would weaken but would then strengthen, like the waxing and waning of the waves at the beach, but that urge never went away.

I don’t know why my urge to be a father was so strong. I don’t know if it’s the way most men think, my friends never mentioned their urge or non-urge to have children. The only time I’ve heard any man talk about children were my friends who were already fathers.

Its true that my urge wasn’t always 100%, as I just wrote, but it never fully disappeared. If anything, I had doubts at times that I may not become a father at all. In fact, just before I met my wife I thought it would never happen; I was pretty content about it, I really had no choice because my age was creeping northward on my biological clock.

Me and my wife used to talk for hours about having children, I mostly listened. I always wanted to be a father and I agreed with her that we should try although I think she was trying harder than I was. She was trying to beat her maternal clock as it was starting to wind down: she was forty-years-old.

Me, on the other hand, was fifty-years-old and I had faced the fact several years earlier that I probably wouldn’t be a father, but if it happened it would be great. I was betting on my age that I had unintentionally alluded fatherhood.

Prior to that day, I went to a fertility clinic to have a check-up. I took a semen sample and trying not to make a scene I handed my sample to the lab assistant, went over the details, and off to the histology lab it went.

Two weeks later the results returned and I was told that my millions, were actually in the hundreds and quite possible in the dozens.

But all it took was one and my wife informed me that she was pregnant. My single sperm with the help of the weaker sperms had broken through the defensive line to the egg, much like the great NFL offensive line of the 1950s-era Cleveland Browns in which Frank Gatski, Mike McCormack, Lou Groza, Abe Gibron, Harold Bradlyrimary, and Gene Nickerson protected Otto Graham for the 1955 NFL Championship.

You could use a football analogy that my only sperm attempted a Hail Mary pass like the attempted by the Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach during the1975 NFL playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings in which the pass in desperation was successful.

It is much easier to become a father than to be one.

Kent Nerburn

This essay isn’t about unruly children or even worse, the parents who allow their children to be unruly. It’s about how I transitioned from someone who had no idea what it was like to be a parent or to even what it’s like to be around children into becoming a parent myself.

Before I was a father, the closest I came to any semblance of fatherhood was owning two shih-tzu’s, a cat, and a house plant. To me, at this point in my life the idea of fatherhood was being tired in the mornings and exhausted during the day, never having any time to myself, and never having any money. I later learned that my idea of fatherhood wasn’t too far off the mark.

I would cringe every time I’d hear a child throw a fit, or even cry out loudly. I would think “get control of your child or leave!” I couldn’t stand hearing a crying child. To me there are two distinct styles of crying.

There is the crying of a very young child who is still very much dependent on the mother for its survival, much like a puppy that’s still blind crying to its mother. The crying is a way of communicating and you can tell the differences in the child’s crying.

Babies have a distinct cry when they are happy as opposed to when they are distressed. And then there is the cry when the baby is hungry. Even though the cries are off setting, they aren’t as irritating as the crying of an older child.

When the child becomes a little older, maybe three or four-years-old crying serves another purpose: self-gratification as opposed to self-survival. This is the cry the child makes when he (or she) has figured out they can get what they want if they cry long enough and loud enough. The crying can be accompanied by fits of kicking and stomping and as a last resort, yelling.

We’ve all seen the child whose perfected this tactic. This tactic is usually from the child whose been spoiled and has gotten his way. The parent usually caves in, but I’ve seen some parents weather the storm.

I’ve seen parents who didn’t tolerate this behaviour and would put an end to it no matter where they were. I’ve seen parents, in this case its usually the mother put a stop to a crying child in public. First, the arm grab is deployed, and the mother tells the child to stop crying. If the child continues, the arm grab is deployed again, the arm is raised to position the child for a public spanking. After this, the child is left to licking his wounds.

I know much about public spankings as I’ve had a few of them in the aisles of the A&P we used to shop at when I was growing up.

Worse than crying is when a parent lets their child run around unattended.

Children running around unattended happens and happens way too often if you ask me. In my experience, unattended children existed more so in restaurants and malls than anywhere else. I’d be sitting at my table eating and a child would walk up to my table and stare at me, or the child try’s their hand at conversation, or even worse start to sample my food. These parents treat the restaurant like it’s a free-range day care center; to these parents, these places must be time off from civility.

It never crossed my mind that parenting is hard or even impossible to pull off successfully even though I saw struggling parents every day and experienced it first-hand myself after starting my family.

To a father growing old nothing is dearer than a daughter.


I have a friend who’s married and has a child and during my life of being single I used to be invited over periodically. I don’t know if I was invited over because they felt sorry for me or thought that I needed to see what married life was like and I would magically get the urge to marry.

On my visits, I got a first-hand look at home life as a parent, it was a rough lifestyle. The baby pretty much had taken over their flat as in there were baby toys and baby bottles everywhere. In addition to toys and bottles, there were other items to make parenting easier, if that’s even possible: a bottle sanitizer to sanitize the bottles, a baby chair for feeding time, baby gates to keep the baby from crawling into unexplored territory, nappy bags, baby bags, nappies, a baby stroller folded up and stowed behind a door.

Some of the baby toys were claimed by the family dog and turned into his chew toy just as the family dog’s water and food bowl were claimed as the baby’s own.

But at the end of my visits, they where always smiling and in a good mood although they were always tired and exhausted.

Whenever I ride public transportation, I see parents, whether it’s the mother or father struggling to keep their child content and pleasant to the other commuters’ ears, that is, trying to keep their child from crying. I thought I was the only parent who carried an iPad loaded with nursery rhymes until one day I heard faintly Upsy Daisy singing her theme song. There was a child sitting in her stroller staring at an iPad with an intensity that rivalled the viewing of the moon landing on an old RCA Model 2000.

Outside of the parents who treats restaurants as nurseries, as I’ve mentioned earlier, I see struggling parents trying to keep the little people they call their child content whilst attempting to feed them.

I disagree that feeding a child fast food or even restaurant food at an early age is appropriate, but I do realize from my own experience that keeping a child content while dining (is McDonalds considered dining?) is impossible sometimes in the world we live in. But, the parents aren’t always feeding the child restaurant food, sometimes the baby’s drinking baby milk from a bottle.

Every time me or my wife goes out with our daughter, we pack as if we will be gone for days. Firstly, we must figure out how long we may be gone and take into consideration any problems which will keep us out longer. We carry bottles, hot water, cold water, milk, and of course diapers.

Then, we carry snacks, toys for the baby, an iPad, nappies, a change of clothes, accessories for the baby stroller, and whatever else we think may be needed. As you can imagine, me and the wife don’t go out together as often as we used to.

Probably the one situation in which parents struggle the most is when it comes to living a decent life. When I say, “trying to live a decent life,” what I really mean is making ends meet.

To make ends meet, a typical family must work two jobs: the wife will work as well as the husband. A second job is pretty much mandatory to live a middle-class lifestyle. I remember when I was growing up, only my father had a job and my mother stayed home. This was the life.

I had romanticized marriage my whole life. I thought a typical marriage would be like the marriage between my mother and father, but I was so wrong. The marriage I had in my head, was my father working a nine-to-five job (with weekends off) and coming home to a hot, home cooked meal was nothing short of pure fantasy, but it was common when I was growing up.

I worked days and my wife works nights. I take care of our daughter at night and my wife takes care of our daughter during the day. We literally pass each other in the mornings with a brief stop so my wife can get an update on how the night went and I get a morning kiss.

The evening’s not too different. As I come home, me and my wife briefly get to see each other as she leaves for work as she briefs me on how the day went and she gets a kiss goodbye. If we don’t want to live in poverty or depend on state benefits, then this is how we must live.

Breaking: as I write this in my local café on a Saturday afternoon, what I believe to be a three-year-old walks right by my table and lets out a loud, piercing, shrieking scream level with my ears while ironically Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence plays in the background.

I am unaffected.

I don’t flinch.

I keep on pecking out my story on my laptop.

Where was I?

I’ve come a long way from my pre-parenting days. I can tolerate a crying child more so now than I used to be able to. I can even tolerate [a little better] the child who is left unattended and runs around the restaurant.

What’s happened to me? Experience.

My capacity for love which started with my parents and continued with my two shih-tzu’s and my cat and what I thought had evolved with my marriage has reached a new level of compassion as well as a new level of anger, anxiety, fear, stress, sympathy, and empathy.

Having a child of my own has made me see how difficult it is to raise a child. What I’ve experienced so far is just the tip of the iceberg, after all, she’s only two-years-old and there’s a long road ahead of me.



A Grain of Salt | ElbyJames

ElbyJames is an American disabled combat vet exiled in the UK & a free speech absolutist. He’s an occasional Top Writer