In February, my daughter will turn two, so I’m thinking about her annual test of strength. This is a tradition we began on her first birthday, when she walked the last fifty meters up Peter’s Hill. A mentor of mine once told me he never understood why parents would give their child a car on their 16th birthday. He said it made more sense to give them a mountain to climb. The little one had only been walking for two months last February, so we went with the top of a hill instead of a mountain. But now that she runs and skips and climbs and emphatically stomps in puddles, the mountain doesn’t feel far off.
People often ask me what it’s like to have a kid while in law school. One obvious answer is that it places limits on my time. I am often a bit more sleep-deprived than my classmates and because of daycare drop-offs and pick-ups it’s difficult to participate in extra-curriculars. The time crunch can distract from both home life and school work. When I am in dad mode, I sometimes think about the fact that my classmates are likely reading case law while I’m reading Moo, Baa, La La La! for the 100th time.
But time is in limited supply for all of us and many law students face comparable obstacles to their studies. I have classmates working part-time jobs to finance their education, commuting long distances to avoid expensive housing, and performing the under-acknowledged labor of caring for family members who aren’t children. In one way or another, we are all forced to make choices in conditions not of our choosing. But because I chose to be a father, I try not to indulge in an unwarranted sense of self-pity. I’ve found that one way to do that is by appreciating what my daughter brings, not just to my overall life, but to my life as a student.
For example, in law school it’s easy to develop a dysfunctional relationship with time. But if you want to be reminded of the value of life lived in the present, spend time with a two-year-old. When my mind wanders to an upcoming exam or a legal memo, my daughter—at full volume—brings my attention right back to the Lego house we’re building or to the rock she found during our walk.
Similarly, she helps me to maintain a sense of perspective about what is within my control. When I take her to the bottom of the hill this February, it’s anyone’s guess whether she’ll be in the mood to walk up it. Whatever qualities I intend to instill in her—strength, self-reliance, perseverance—I can only lay them out in front of her as possibilities. I can’t choreograph her life for her. Kahlil Gibran put it this way:
You are the bows from which your children as
living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the
infinite, and He bends you with His might that
His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He
loves also the bow that is stable.
That kind of stability requires humility, patience, and daily diligence coupled with long-term perspective. And even when you get all that right, as Gibran says, you still have to let go and watch your kid fly. You’re not in control. If his metaphor doesn’t work for you, just observe a two-year-old. No one and no thing instantiates this truth better than a strong-willed toddler.
Parents are not endowed with exceptional humility, patience, diligence, and perspective. We are, however, gifted with adorable, edifying embodiments of disorder. This combination of life circumstances—the demand that I be stable and the recurring reminder that I am not in control—is my daughter’s principal gift to me as a law student. Good education is profoundly disorienting and to get the most out of it, the qualities mentioned above are invaluable. But in today’s utilitarian environment, there is a focus on outcomes that are often beyond our control. Understanding this brings a kind of clarity.
I hope the little one charges up Peter’s Hill, confidently moves on to greater heights each year, and carries that strength with her in all aspects of life. Similarly, I hope law school positions me to effect the change that I envisioned when I decided to become a lawyer. But how those goals come into being is to a significant degree beyond my control. My daughter has taught me that, for the sake of stability as both a parent and a student, I might as well focus on what I can control: the humility, patience, diligence, and perspective necessary to each day.