From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

The Price of a Child

It’s good to have money and the things money can buy, but it’s good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven’t lost the things that money can’t buy.

George Horace Lorimer

“Daddy, how much did I cost?”

Perched on my parents’ cedar chest in the bedroom, I listened to their casual talk about budgets and paychecks—talk as relevant back in 1967 as it is today. My then-six-year-old mind concluded, wrongly, that my family was poor.

Dad stood at his dresser, looking at bills. He wore faded jeans, an undershirt and white canvas shoes stained grass-green from mowing our lawn. Mom folded laundry on the bed, making even towers of sun-dried clothes. I spotted my new shorts sets and thought about day camp.

Their money talk continued, and Dad joined me on the cedar chest. I plunked the springy metal watchband on Dad’s tan wrist, thinking that the white skin underneath reminded me of a fish belly. Just as I started to ask him to “make a muscle” so I could try pushing his flexed biceps down, a thought hit me like icy water from a garden hose: Dad had to pay for me.

While the story of my birth ranked as a bedtime favorite, I had never considered hospital bills, or the countless meals I’d eaten, or the price of summer clothes.

“Daddy,” I interrupted again, “how much did I cost?”

“Oh, let’s see.” He sighed in distraction and placed his watch on the safety of his dresser. “About a million dollars.”

A light went out inside of me. A million dollars. Because of me, Dad worked two jobs. Because of me, he drove an old car, ate lunch at home and had his dress shoes resoled—again.

With my eyes and chin down, I inched off the cedar chest and shuffled into the kitchen. From a shelf, I took my granny-shaped bank, which held every penny I owned— seven dollars even. And not seven dollars in assorted change, but seven cool, shiny silver dollars, one for every birthday and one for the day I was born.

The bank’s rubber plug surrendered, and the coins poured into my hands. I had often played with these coins in secret, jostling them in a small drawstring bag in my roles as gypsy or runaway princess. They had always been put back in the bank, though, and I felt secure pleasure in just knowing they were there. But that day, the “clink” of returning each coin sounded hollow.

If the topic had changed when I returned to my parents’ bedroom, I didn’t notice. Tugging on Dad’s shirt, I held out my first payment on a million dollars.

“Here,” I sniffed. “Maybe this will help pay for me.”

“What?” Dad’s confused look matched my own. Didn’t he remember what he’d said? Didn’t the sight of me remind him of how much I cost?

My tear-filled eyes, which I couldn’t seem to take off the bank, finally made sense to him.

Dad knelt down and pulled me close. “You didn’t cost a million dollars, but you’re worth a million-million dollars. And if that’s what I’d have to pay for you, I’d do it. Now dry those eyes and put your bank away.”

Today, I often pull this memory out, turn it over and feel the warm satisfied weight of it in my heart. Back then, no price could be put on my worth to my dad. No price can be put on his worth to me now.

Debi Stack

More stories from our partners