There is nothing in this world I enjoy more than hanging out with my daughter.
Building a tent in the living room at 9 PM while my wife and son snooze the night away. Quietly hiding from monsters or dinosaurs while she peeks out from underneath the blanket with her flashlight, saying under hushed breath, as she looks back at me with those wide blue eyes that are my own, “Here come the monsters, Daddy! Hide.”
A simple drive to the store and her with me, small hand in mine, as we careen through the aisles of Target or Harris Teeter, on an adventure searching for Lactaid milk because I have grown lactose-intolerant in my old age. On the drive there, she sits in the backseat, her Barbie between her knees, talking to it, making it dance or sing or just be her friend or plastic confidant. I listen. I watch her in the rearview. I see her smile. I hear her giggle.
This is where I am in my life right now, and there is no other place I would rather be.
As men, we try to figure out women our entire lives. Once we finally settle down and marry, a wife to share a house with, a life with, we think we have the puzzle all figured out — almost. Then we have children.
You would assume having a daughter would clear up some of the mystery, but it does quite the opposite.
Women remain a mystery.
The mystery becomes even more mysterious.
The first time I ever saw my dad come close to crying was the day we dropped off my sister at Radford University back in 1997 for her first year of college. We unpacked, moved her in, and then it seemed like my parents were doing everything in their power to slow down the day in an effort to prolong us leaving.
Me, I was trying to find some nook or cranny behind her dorm to smoke a cigarette before we got in the car to leave. That’s not to say that I wasn’t going to miss my sister. I was. I just smoked a lot of cigarettes at the time (ripe age of 15) and couldn’t bear the thought of 2 ½ hours of riding in a car with my parents without a Marlboro Menthol in my bloodstream.
When we finally said goodbye to my sister, I noticed my dad’s blue eyes glaze up as he turned his head toward the door to leave. Naturally, my mom’s eyes did tear up, completely, as she whipped out a tissue and dabbed at her running eyeliner. At the time, I recall thinking of my dad as I looked at his melancholy expression, “Oh, for goodness sakes. We’ll see her in a few weeks. Suck it up.”
Now, now I get it.
Had my mom and I not been there, had we not ridden with him, I imagine my dad would have cried as he walked to his truck and placed the key in the ignition. Tears would have fallen down his cheek, wet with memories as he drove back home, thinking of when his daughter was just a baby entering this world, as she learned to eat solid food, as she learned to walk, ride a bike for the first time, turn the key in the ignition and drive a car at Phenix Elementary, him in the passenger seat beside her, guiding her, teaching her.
But we were there, so he hid his emotions, blinked the glaze out of his eyes and blew his nose into his handkerchief as if there were dust in the room and he was clearing allergies.
I get it now.
My daughter is not a baby anymore.
She is not a toddler anymore.
She is a little girl.
And she is growing, fast.
This is where I am in my life right now, with her, and there is no other place I would rather be.