I’m a Dad.
I met my oldest daughter when I was 21 or so.
Taken together that’s not altogether that interesting. I’m proud of it, but I still know it’s not interesting.
I didn’t meet her in the hospital like most dads do. It wasn’t a meeting like I had with my second and third daughters, where I made every attempt to be the first thing they ever encountered with their own eyes (perhaps an arrogant game, but I wanted a “first” of something, because I knew I might miss so many others). No cute little caps were involved. No one was there to snap the commemorative picture for us, and honestly, no one would have even thought to do it.
Because I met my oldest daughter in front of a movie theater.
When her mother brought her along on a date.
This wasn’t unexpected of course. We had been dating for a couple of weeks, spent all the hours one normally spends on the phone when one is starting to fall in love. I was frankly flattered when she asked if I would like to attend a movie with them.
But I was scared to death.
Everything turned out okay that night. The movie wasn’t horrible as animated films go. She declined the gift of a portrait of a rabbit that I drew on a coffee shop place mat, foregoing mine for her mother’s; I was surprised by that a little bit if I’m being honest. I’m a pretty decent artist.
But I learned something that night. Two things really.
The first was that I was falling in love.
The second was that if I was going to be anything at all to this beautiful little three year-old girl, I was going to have to earn it.
It wasn’t a given. Who was I to her?
No one. That’s who.
If I wanted a place in her life I was going to have to justify it the old fashioned way.
Sometimes I wonder if other parents would benefit from this kind of experience. No way to sit back and resort to the tired cliché of “I’m your Dad, that’s why.” No way to default to some backwards and illogical position because that’s the way you did things when you were young.
At times it was exhausting. Many times I got it wrong. I’d like to think that more than a few times I nailed it. But every single time I had to really, really think about it. There was every bit the chance that she would reject me. Who was I to her?
Fourteen years and nearly twelve grades later I sit back and marvel at the young lady that she has become. She has all the charm and charisma of her mother, and all the unfiled edges of a young woman that is only just beginning to encounter the polish of life. She thanks me for things. She goes to plays, and football games, and lunch, and coffee, and things that don’t have any importance but matter because she is with me, the uncool old guy with funny looking running shoes.
She has been one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. She taught me, in a very interactive and Socratic way, just what fatherhood really means.
I’m lucky enough that she now freely tells me who I am to her.
She calls me Dad.