Once upon a time, I went through a really bad thing. I did not know if I’d ever recover. This bad thing affected my 9-year-old daughter.
“You have to be strong for her,” my dad said. “I don’t think you realize how much she loves you.
“She feeds off of you – she’s going to be happy as long as you are, but she’ll be sad if you’re sad.”
In the time since, I’ve tested this. He was correct. Consequently, my daughter moved me to make the choice to be happy. It might not have been genuine, sincere happiness, but I became determined to give my problem to God. It was easier after that.
“HERE, DADDY,” she said to me this afternoon as we walked into a store, presenting me a dirty penny from the parking lot in her hand.
I could see her disappointment without looking.
“Why’d you want to give me that?” I asked.
“Well, if you find a penny, you’re supposed to give it to your best friend so they can have good luck.”
I wasn’t sure that was how the story goes. I’d heard pennies found heads up were good luck, but nothing about giving it to someone else. At that moment, though, it didn’t matter – she’d just called me her best friend.
I thanked her for the penny and put it in my pocket.
I KNOW I WRITE an awful lot about my little girl on this blog. Truth is, she’s the one person in this world who’s always on my mind. When I’m at work, I think of her at school and hope she likes her lunch. Her schedule runs through my mind: I hope I didn’t schedule her dentist appointment for the same time she has her cheerleading clinic.
This preoccupation has yielded its share of conflicts in my life. Not everyone I meet is okay with my daughter coming first. I’m committed to my job, but if I’ve made a commitment that involves my daughter, whatever work needs me for will have to wait. I’ll never know the professional opportunities I’ve squandered maintaining this imbalance. As well, no woman will ever need me more than my daughter.
SHE IS 9 NOW. She’s a step away from being a teenager by today’s standards. My niece, not much older than my daughter, has already hit the point where she’s always at a friend’s house or locked in her bedroom sulking. My daughter mentioned dejectedly the other night the two no longer get along like they did a year ago. She tries to emulate her, in turn … determined to regain her companionship.
Between her schedule, work and relationships (both hers and mine), I sometimes forget the message behind my father’s insight and my daughter’s revelation inspired by the penny: I am my her best friend.
I don’t want to make her grow up. There are parents who believe it’s their role to make their children grow up, stealing their childhood in the process. I’m not one of them.
It’s important to teach the ways of grownups, but it’s critical for grownups to appreciate the ways of children. They all will grow up, whether sappy fathers like me like it or not.
“HOW YOU SHOOTIN’ ’em?” a man asked me recently while walking past my spot in a dove field.
I’d had a rough day. It was stuffy, hot and thick out that afternoon. The birds hadn’t been flying much and those that were flew too high for a modified choke in a shotgun. Even aiming perfectly didn’t work, as the shotgun bee bees were spread out way too far by the time they reached the birds. The entire afternoon in the relentless sun had given me three birds – not counting the one I dropped in a tree that’s probably still there.
“Eh, I’ve done better, done worse,” I said.
The man, who looked to be about 60, looked at me, then at my daughter, oblivious to the conversation as she slouched half asleep in her folding chair among the sunflowers.
“You’ve got your daughter with you,” he said, solemnly. “I’d say you had a very good day.”