Despite possessing both an undergraduate and graduate degree before I became a parent, I felt overwhelmed by the enormity of the responsibility my newborn daughter's absolute helplessness demanded of me. As a child of divorce whose father was awarded custody, my dad basically raised me. As a result, I felt well prepared to be a father, but not as prepared to be a mother.

I felt well prepared to be a father, but not as prepared to be a motherYet parenting is something we learn on the job, as we face the challenges our children present to us in increasing levels of difficulty. This lesson is one I learned from my father who rose to the challenge of being both mother and father to his daughter, a responsibility he never anticipated at the time he divorced my mother. As a result of the challenge he faced and bravely overcame, he enabled me to rise to the challenge my own daughter's birth thrust upon me.

A parent is a parent. Despite the very different parenting styles that men and women have, both genders must cross these barriers in order to parent effectively. Mothers must learn to temper their love with discipline. Fathers must learn to temper their discipline with love. Ideally, we allow our children to make us into the parent they need us to become. Here is the story of the day I learned this secret parenting lesson.

I was a great animal lover, and my father sensed that a pet could help me overcome my feelings of sadness after the divorce. Yet he himself was no great lover of animals. After careful consideration, he decided to take me to the local animal shelter in order to adopt a dog.

Yet he didn't anticipate that I would fall deeply in love at first sight with the large and stunningly beautiful adult male keeshond, who had been caught three days earlier foraging in Central Park. We had arrived at the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) early, before they opened, and found Duke in a van outside, waiting to be driven off to some unknown destination as part of a new publicity campaign to increase animal adoptions.

Duke was not the sort of dog my father had intended for me when he took me to the pound. He wanted something small and civilized, like a poodle or a Pekinese, something that he could handle. He told me that I couldn't adopt Duke. Our house was too small. I was too small. There was certainly a much more suitable dog for me inside the pound.

I watched the van with Duke inside drive awayMy heart broke as the ASPCA opened to admit us, and I watched the van with Duke inside drive away. A pound employee welcomed us inside and gave us a tour of the extensive facility. At the end of the tour, he brought us into his office. "Have you seen anything that appealed to you?" he asked me.

"Yes," I replied, "I want the big grey dog that had been driven away in the van when they opened. There is no other dog in the world for me besides that one." The pound employee offered to call the van on its mobile phone to see which location they had driven off to. He looked at my father for agreement. My father shrugged reluctantly.

Interrupting his phone conversation with the van driver, the pound employee informed us that the van was stationed at a shopping center an hour's drive away in the neighboring borough of Queens. "Shall I ask the van to hold the dog while you drive over there?" he inquired. My father agreed. The request was reasonable since the shopping center's address was less than fifteen minutes drive away from our own home address in Queens. My father acknowledged the strange coincidence as we got back in the car, less than two hours after we set out, and drove back through the midtown tunnel and home to Queens.

Yet he still wasn't convinced this was the dog for me. Duke was just too big for me and for our home. At eleven years old, I was just too little to handle such a large and muscular dog, not to mention one as wild and untamed as this one. My father had imagined something along the lines of a civilized and well-trained poodle, similar to the one owned by the elderly widow next door.

Yet my heart was set on Duke, and when they informed us that Keeshonds are the national dogs of Holland, and that this one was clearly a pedigree, easily identified by the eyeglass-like markings on his eyes, and the uniquely curled tail, I decided to name him Duchess. When the pound employees informed us he was a male, I changed his name to Duke.

My father allowed his love for me overrule his initial judgmentDuke lived with us for thirteen years after that day, and by the time he passed away, he was a full-fledged member of the family. Looking back now, I agree with my father's initial assessment that Duke was too large for our home, and that I was too small and too young to be his owner. Yet I also recognize how my father allowed his love for me overrule his initial judgment, after he looked into my heart and recognized that the hole the divorce had created was just too large to be filled by a small toy poodle. It needed a big dog. It needed Duke.

I can't say this memory was a conscious one as I held my tiny daughter in the hours after her birth. Yet despite my terror at the responsibility she was asking me to shoulder, so much larger and wilder than the one I had initially anticipated, something within me sensed my father's voice whispering to me. "Don't be afraid. If you let her, she will make you into the parent she needs you to become."