Bill Cosby, who wrote a book called Fatherhood, once joked that his father told him not to misbehave; he'd made him, he warned, and could make another one just like him.
I've pretty much figured out that such a thing isn't possible. With three daughters, I've learned that each one is so different that even when we figure out cloning, we're never going to create little duplicates of unique children.
Today is big day in one of those unique lives. It is the day that the first of my girls reaches the age at which she receives the government nod of adulthood.
Essa Elizabeth Paschal, today, is 18. So old. So young.
Our girls all are named after grandmothers, and as first in our family, Essa took on the first name of my wife's great-grandmother and of her daughter. The grandmother was just a few years older than my Essa is now when she died of tuberculosis, and never met her own grandchildren. Carrying on her name seemed very important.
The middle name came from my wife and her mother, meaning my daughter now is linked in name through four generations of women.
All of those generations had their similarities, in looks or personality. But none of them were exactly like the one before it.
My Essa sure has her own unique differences. And in her 18 years there have been plenty of times when I wished the Cosby method actually worked: Just give up and start over.
I'm guessing there are plenty of other dads and moms who have likewise reached the end of their rope and seen the knot start to unravel, and wondered if it wouldn't be better just to let gravity take over.
Fortunately, few of them actually do it. There aren't many things worse than the unfettered fate of a child turned loose too soon, freed of restraint and responsibility and lacking the parental bubble-wrap that so often protects them from harm.
For all the times of madness, though, there have been plenty more signs of wonder: from competing in an elementary school competition for bright kids to dancing in the Nutcracker to witnessing the miracle of birth while job-shadowing a nurse anesthetist, Essa has shined as she has grown.
Of course, she hasn't grown much physically. She still weighs barely 95 pounds, though she's gotten tall enough to see eye-to-eye -- physically, though rarely philosophically -- with her mother.
It's hard to believe this is the same baby we used to hose off in the kitchen sink, the one we'd cover up with leaves in the yard and pretend to lose, the one caught in a hilarious photo just inches away from biting Daisy the cat's ear.
Eighteen years ago, when that little baby finally struggled out after 36 hours of truly laborious labor, her parents began a job in which we had no prior experience. Sure, we had been baby-sitters; but neither of us had carried the responsibility of still being there when it was the baby's bedtime.
The experience has been like driving down a long, unfamiliar road, at night, with the lights off. With someone in the back seat asking "are we there yet?"
Now we've come upon another job we haven't faced before: Being the parents of a young adult. We've been interviewing for it for the past 18 years, but don't feel a bit more ready for the job than we were for that baby's first night at home.
What happens now? College, marriage, grandchildren, old age -- plenty of things we don't have any experience in, either. We'll just have to cope with them the best we can.
Because, as Bill Cosby knows, having lost his own son at a young age, there really are no chances to try again. The first time is your only opportunity.
With Essa, we took our best shot, and now she's become a young adult. That's a new job for her, too, and I hope she's better at it than any of us were.
I love you, Essa P. Congratulations, and happy birthday.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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