People generally tag teenage years as the most confused and cumbersome phase of a person’s life. I rather see children between the age 2 and 9 as the most difficult people I have ever met. They don’t seem to understand what they are about but still know what they are. Their confusion is not rebellious as it is for most teenagers. A very young child is a scary being because it is not deeply influenced by anything. No one can attract its attention except its own mother and rarely its father. A mother’s influence on a developing young child is well established. I don’t have to cite anything for that, do I?
The 2 to 9 age window of a child is a difficult phase not for the child but for its father. The roles are reversed when the child enters its teenage years, and I don’t think a father can do much by being worried about improving himself during his child’s teenage years. However, I believe that for a father, it is difficult to get a grip on a young child. He has to invest a lot more (relatively) to develop a bonding with his offspring. An early investment is necessary for a retirement benefit (if one can call it that).
We lose people (to death) at various junctures in our lives. I might be right if I say that a young person’s life if lost is the most expensive of all losses because the time and the resources invested in him/her for 20 to 30 years would not yield any societal or personal returns (with justifiable exceptions). However, from the perspective of the young person who died prematurely, one could say that at least s/he had a chance to understand and enjoy life for as long as s/he lived (30+ years). I think the human society is kind enough to grant that to someone.
Death of a newborn, as it is so common in the world, would not be as traumatic to its father as it would be to its mother. But, after four to nine years, after a father would have searched for his limited emotional reserves to invest in his offspring, if the child dies, his grief would have no solace.
Recently, I heard a radio interview of Ian Clayton, an author and a broadcasting journalist, who described the experience of losing his 9 year-old daughter in a canoeing accident. He tried to see the positive side and said that she had a wonderful 9 years full of enthusiasm and was happy that he could spend 9 good years with his young daughter. The interviewer found it hard to believe and so did I.
A couple of days ago there was news that people who were curating a museum established in memory of Rudyard Kipling found an early print edition of his famous work ‘The Jungle Book” (we remember Mowgli, don’t we?). They found that Kipling had written an inscription that read, “This book belongs to Josephine Kipling, for whom it was written by her father, May 1894”. Josephine was his first child and he lost her to pneumonia in 1899 at the tender age of 6. The book was preserved by his younger daughter Elsie Kipling. Rudyard Kipling could have been slightly better off than most fathers in a similar situation because he had written something for her that too when she was alive. He could perhaps relate to her when he was writing “The Jungle Book”.
I forgot to add that even Ian Clayton wrote a book on his daughter after her death, trying to document everything (both important and unimportant) she had done in her short life. It surely could have helped him recover and as all of you would add, it certainly goes beyond that. There are several other legitimate mechanisms to do that also. I might be foolish in my attempt to quantify grief. Ultimately, I think it is what we do when we cope with any loss.
PS (added on April 14th): Recently I went through the feelings of a father when he loses his child. The only difference was that the child-like being whom I lost, was 90 years old.