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Shoulders and calves. Oily scalp and big teeth. Sense of humor and charisma. Eloquence and fetching smile. Temper. Sweet tooth. Optimism and open mind. Intelligence and sophistication. Impatience and obstinacy. Cynosural wit.
My father gave these things to me. Some I didn’t want. Many I will always be grateful for. All of them make me his daughter.
She will start out small. Small hands. Small feet. Small smiles in the thick of sleep. She will not stay that way, however. She will grow. And you must grow with her.
She will start to get curious, and look to you for guidance; ask you how this is done, how that works. And you must show her. You are busy, but you must not let that interfere with your first responsibility. You are Dad. She doesn’t understand bills. She knows nothing of aching bones and hard earned money. She knows that you pay attention to her, or that you do not.
Teach her of compassion and sensitivity. These things are equally important to courage and strength. You must be enough of a man to let her do your make-up. Soft enough to cry when you are sad, and strong enough to tell her no even when it makes her angry . . . especially when it makes her angry. Your pride and ego comes second to her character and development. Father means sacrificing time, money, and sometimes both at once. There will be a season of eudaimonia; when the “I love you’s” will flourish, and hearing “Daddy” is as common as peanut butter. She will revel in your delight of her, and spin in circles just so you can see the air fill her skirts, the sunlight turn her eyes golden. But it will not always be that way. She will grow. And you must grow with her.
She will adore you. You will be her hero. She will trust you and never think twice of the possibility that you might be wrong, might not know everything there is to know about life. There will be no other man but you. Enjoy this. Appreciate this. Because it will not always be so. Take advantage of every moment, every opportunity, and make the most of it. You are changing her life every minute you spend with her.
It is from you, dad, she will learn of her self-worth. She will decide how much or how little she deserves to be loved by how greatly you first loved her. She will say “No” to the wrong ones, but only if she knows better. What you expose her to will stay with her her entire life; the good and the bad, so be careful. Make wise choices. Teach her everything you know. Help her be a better person, the very best version of herself. Do not try and make her something she is not. Don’t criticize her for being less than what you hoped she would be, and do not punish her for accidents and mistakes. That is how she will learn. You must give her room to fail, and be there with open arms when she realizes that . . . you were right after all.
Spend time with her. Take an interest in the things she likes, and let her teach you. This builds confidence. Force your presence on her if you must, because she might just be a little too cool to tell you that she wants you around.
It will be increasingly difficult to watch this baby of yours become a little girl, then a young lady, and at last a woman. Give her room, but don’t wander beyond arm’s reach. She will need you yet to come. She’s watching you. Closely. Your actions, your words, how you respond to adversity, stress, and the pitfalls of life — she will learn how to react, manage, and cope from you. Or she won’t. Be there. Always. Be around to instruct her when she’s faltering. To offer the wisdom she might flout at because, to her, the words “life experience” are synonymous with old. Most importantly, be around to hug her when she needs her daddy again.
Even if you weren’t perfect, even if you did a few things wrong, and even if there are some things she wishes you would have done differently, she will be the kind of woman that takes you whole, for the man you are. She will know if you tried to love her well. And if you’ve done a good job, if you’ve less mistakes than successes, you will have the honor and privilege of walking her down the aisle; of being the one to give her away.
But in your heart you will know that this is a lie. You will never completely give her to anyone. Because she was yours first. Small hands. Small feet. Small smiles in the thick of sleep. Know that she belongs to you, but don’t tell her. It’s important that she believe she belongs to that man who, hopefully is a little like you in some ways. And if not, it’s because she didn’t need two dads.
And when she is married, and has a whole other life that, quite honestly you are a much smaller part of now, she will still choose to spend time with you.
Because she wants to.
Because she loves you.
Because you don’t outgrow your dad.
She will put her head close to yours, look into your face knowingly, and this time it is her turn to be proud of you.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you,
And to all of you fathers raising your sons and daughters: thank you for taking your responsibility seriously. She will continue growing older, and he might even start to resemble an adult, but you . . . you will always be daddy.
Happy Father’s Day.