It was my daughter’s birthday this week and while she lives in another state, I spoke with her at some length on the telephone.
Though it was not spoken, I sensed that she did not want to hang up any more than I did. Though there were pregnant pauses and uncomfortable gaps, the conversation ended with “I love you.”
I later realized that perhaps we had reached yet another relationship destination, one of many that have occurred along the way. As parents, it is a curious paradox in that we bond with our children through their dependence on us but at the same time we encourage and hope that they are becoming their own person, capable of taking care of themselves and ultimately finding their way in the world on their own.
My daughter arrived in the world easily, a very short labor and there she was. At home, it soon became a ritual to look at a book or rock in a chair and then I would play a song accompanied with my guitar,putting her to sleep right away. As I found myself having to attend conferences for several days at a time for work I made tapes so she could hear me sing before bed. She could not go to sleep easily without hearing me sing.
I did not know how special that need made me feel until one day, she didn’t want me to sing to her at night anymore. Ah, the paradox, she was making her own decision about a bedtime ritual, a first destination; letting go.
Being an only child meant that just about every weekend, we had one or more extra girls with us. At first, games included adults but not for long, her friends became her focus.
It was a fabulous time and the many young girls that came to visit greatly enriched our lives with many unforgettable and memorable moments. The house was filled with sounds of children running, laughing and singing. They made themselves up in makeup and made short videos that they then watched.
I was invited to watch for a while, over time that invitation was relinquished; letting go.
I frequently drove my daughter to school and one day when she was in fourth grade, just before we arrived at school she told me that if I wanted to hug her and kiss her, I should do it now before arriving at school. Those few, benign words slammed in to me like a howling freight train. I stopped at the stop sign and reached over for a kiss on the cheek and hoped she wouldn’t see how hard it had hit me.
I remember calling a friend and doing something that I had not done in twenty years. I cried that day and forever after I was transformed by that event into someone that cried, almost a stranger to myself in this regard.
It was a new destination for me and my daughter. Never a fan of gushy movies, I sat teary eyed as Johnny so famously said; “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” And so I strangely became a fan of the chick flick and I watched with my daughter and her friends the many tear jerking films that I had never seen before or even knew existed.
At one point I found myself needing to gain my composure at a movie theatre while my daughter walked by chuckling. I don’t think she understood then, nor did I, just how much fatherhood had changed me; a new destination.
I had to learn to let her suffer her hurts though they probably injured me nearly as much as they did her. I celebrated her triumphs but more and more at a distance; letting go.
Still there were times, even as a teenager, that she laid her head on my lap and fell asleep while I stroked her hair and listened to her deep slow breathing as I had so alertly done when she was a baby. I was holding on again and she was holding me, too.
To this day, though she is an adult, she sometimes sits on my knee and snuggles her head in against my neck and it is a brief, transcendent moment where I am young, she is a baby and that feeling of completeness that is so fleeting, washes over me.
As a parent, holding on and letting go is a walk that we make every day. We wonder if they are happy and safe just as we did when they were children. While our children leave us, some may be a world away, still, they are in our hearts and those are memories that we will always hold on to.
Remember, all kids count.
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