The two things children need most from parents: roots and wings
 
Dave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen

There was a thought stuck in my mind that connected universities to factory-raised chickens and it took a phone call to an invisible man in Edmonton to make sense of it all.

It started when daughter Kate, 21, a sophomore at McGill University, declared her financial independence. She no longer needed her parents' money, she said, and then took me to a bank to prove it. She is now operating on a student line-of-credit. I can still monitor her finances by computer because she allows it. Her summer earnings will likely eliminate some debt and then she'll repeat the process.

She will enter the working world with the degree she wants because she's lucky. She's a great believer in the Stephen Leacock line: "The harder I work, the luckier I get." It's on the wall at the entrance of the grade school she attended in Kanata. She will also have a frightening debt load, but says university is her choice and she'll handle it.

Her personal declaration of independence left me proud but sad. Her mother, Sheila Brady, sits across the table from me at meal times and pointed to the slogan she keeps on the wall behind my place. It's about the two most important things we give our children: roots and wings.

"Wings David," she says, intending to soothe.

I called Edmonton to talk to the man whose daughter, the same age as ours, sued him. The state was already involved in his life because he was separated from his daughter's mother and court-ordered support was in place. They never married, but through court orders the state has given itself a place at his table.

We talked about our daughters. His appears under legal restrictions only as "P.T." to protect her from embarrassment. Therefore, he can't be identified. He has been rendered virtually invisible. He lives on a disability pension. He doesn't live well.

I'm looking forward to the upcoming reading week break and Ms. Independence back in the house. The piano will be making joyful sounds again. The dog will learn new tricks. I'll have a date for a "shoot 'em up'' movie Ms. Brady won't accompany me to.

Alberta dad never sees his daughter. She is being cared for by the state under its definition of her "best interests." She is surrounded by a zero-tolerance attitude intended to eliminate risk. She doesn't have to work for her food. Life without risk is for factory-raised broilers. They never touch the ground.

They also don't give their dads the mix of pride and joy I'm wallowing in. What did I do right? The quick answer is I married her mother and stayed married. Family court is a door through which the state enters our lives and like a guest gone sour won't leave.

There's something else I did right. My daughter knew she could come to me at any time and ask any question, and she would get a hug and those three magic words.

Ask your mother.

As a result, she became a reflection of her mom. She's fiercely independent, has a Presbyterian work ethic, packs a lot of living into every day and makes basically only one demand, over and over, like her mom. "Hug, please."

P.T.'s mom is in the process of putting together another court action. Court assessed support payments to her are nearing an end. She has decided to go back to school and wants costs offset by P.T.'s dad. Given his record of wins and losses, she'll likely get them. No hugs attached.

P.T. puts into play another of my pet theories. She wants to be a psychologist. Many people drawn into that spooky craft are, in my opinion, damaged. They have become screwed up and hope that by studying psychology they will be able to unscrew themselves. Instead, they are turned loose with a licence to screw up others.

Or maybe she'll be one of those rare ones who won't bend the rules of the craft to fit the needs of the person paying the bills. As a court watcher for many years, I've marvelled at how a psychological assessment fits the needs of whomever paid for it 100 per cent of the time.

If I could write the lines to the play that would start her career, one of her first patients/clients would be a student unhappy with his or her parents' limits on the amount they would be willing to contribute to a university education. A factory chicken in the making.

Dad would be an Alberta judge.

Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor. Send e-mail to dbrown@thecitizen.canwest.com . Read previous columns at www.ottawacitizen.com .

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