Sharon and I were washing the pickup one Saturday afternoon when she said, out of the blue, "Are you glad you had girls instead of boys? Would you rather have had sons?"
She was referring to the fact that I was the only male in the family. One wife, two daughters, a German Shepherd, two cats, two newts, two rabbits, all of which sported a preference for being female. I was the only one that held out for being one of the opposite sex! (We do have several hundred spiders that live around the windows, and in the fireplace, but as of this writing, I have not been able to determine their gender absolutely.)
Am I glad I had girls instead of boys? It was like asking me if I preferred the world round instead of square. There was no way I could answer to the point of satisfaction. What comparison does one have?
At first I joked about it. Yes, I had said, your mother and I tried boys at first, but they were so untidy that we sent them back before the warranty ran out, and exchanged them for girls.
Sharon laughed and repeated her question. I tried to think what had precipitated the question. Was it because I had sighed a little too much when I wanted a pair of (stronger) arms to hold the wrench when I was turning the nut on the other end? was it the time when I just didn't feel like splitting another log?
We stopped washing the pick-up, and moved up to the rising mound of the lawn where two apple trees were forming their first tiny fruits. I had planted them both for the girls - one each, Red Delicious for Sharon, and a Yellow Delicious for Kate. We sat down, and Sharon stretched out, arms folded under her head, and waited. I wondered; would I have planted them for sons?
It wasn't the first time the question had been asked. I had often asked it of myself. Boys instead of girls? It isn't that simple. Sex and gender have nothing to do with character.
From the very beginning, I have reveled in the insights that came with children in my life. I have always tried to tell them who they are, often without comprehension, but always giving them the message, like some lighthouse, until it sinks in and they understand. And when I stand and look at them, the age and sex of these two girls come out a pretty poor second against the wonder and grace that they express about and to the world around them.
Again what is the comparison? We superficially compare our mothers with our best friends' mothers, or our brothers with other seemingly kinder or more experienced brothers of others. But it is a surface comparison. My daughters have covered my life with a million and one little secrets and intimate details that no one else could possibly accomplish. I have known the all theirm lives. Much of what they are is me, not as a copy or semblance, but as a reminder of who I am as well.
If I were to say that I would rather have something, or someone else, I would have no way of knowing to whom I was comparing the others. My daughters have given so much to my life, taught me so much about children, and little girls and growing, that I would be scared even to think about any kind of replacement, imaginary or otherwise.
When I was first married, I thought that we would have a son, or sons, and maybe a daughter or two. Perhaps. Much of this thinking was wrapped up in human theories about lineage, male dominance of the family, and so on and so on. Whe I first saw Sharon, so tiny, so dependent upon us, all thoughts of the consequence of boys or girls disappeared from my head. It has been relatively so all my life.
I have not missed sons. I would certainly miss daughters. All the ladies in the house, have highlighted my male qualities, and I, (hopefully) have enhanced their uniqueness of being women. We have tried to create both a separation and a togetherness of our different qualities, bringing a kind of androgenous harmony without stifling our special qualities.
"Yes," I told Sharon under her apple tree, "I am glad I had girls. I am very glad you came along. But I think you would have made little difference to the way I feel about you, if you had been a son."
She smiled. I smiled in return. Sometimes it seems a little difficult to get close to sons. It shouldn't. But Sharon and I shared a moment that we have always known to be there; a mutual respect for two human beings who recognize that people can exist very well without labels, be it father, mother, son or sister. I was tempted to ask her if she would rather have had a brother instead of a sister. It would have been a waste of time. I know her answer would have been the same as mine.