A Father's Lament
did the time go? The question haunts me as I watch my daughter walk
across the stage to receive her college diploma. Only four years ago we
had carried her possessions into the freshman dormitory and left her
with hugs and brave words of encouragement. Then we cried all the way
back to South Carolina. Now she is a graduate—and engaged to boot. What
has God wrought? The “real world” of work and marriage is stealing my
little girl, the kamikaze kid who did cartwheels across the front yard
and back flips off the furniture. She can’t leave me now; I am still
learning how to be a father.
If I seem conflicted, I am. While
filled with parental pride as Jessica strides buoyantly across the stage
in her medieval cap and gown, I nevertheless feel pangs of ambivalence
about this latest rite of passage. My selfish heart aches as I imagine
life without her kinetic presence in our household. No more spontaneous
theatricals. No more all-night VCR movie marathons. No more helping with
homework. No more dirty dishes for me to retrieve.
course, have a special relationship with daughters. The powerful
chemistry between them is binding yet explosive. How else to explain the
tangled cycles of tenderness and tantrums, nurture and strain,
possessiveness and independence that mark our days together. The
presence of a daughter in a household makes fathers do foolish things.
You should have heard me interrogate the first boy who dared to take
Jessica on a date. His very life was in the balance. On the other hand,
my life was at risk when she experienced the hormonal turbulence of
puberty. Talk about moody—she was a walking storm cloud. Only distance
and deference brought me security.
With all of the objectivity
of a father, I can say that Jessica was a relentlessly charming little
girl—willful, hell-bent (I nicknamed her “tornado”), curious, dramatic,
and precocious. She was daring and spirited, like a frisky colt. She was
also intent upon leading. At age five, Jessica and her kindergarten
friends loved to play school on the back porch. They would carry on in
their imaginary school for hours unattended. As the weeks passed,
however, we began to worry that Jessica always appointed herself the
teacher. Finally we intervened, insisting that she let one of the other
girls be the teacher. All seemed to be going swimmingly. Jessica
reported, “Beth is a great teacher,” whereupon we asked what role she
was now playing. “Oh, I am the principal,” she declared.
sure, the bounding and boundless little girl eventually discovered the
limits of her fearlessness, as when she came home from school to find
her brother’s python wrapped around the headboard of her bed. But her
feisty spirit remains unchecked.
If it is true that the best
thing a father can do for a daughter is to help her learn to be
independent, to think for herself, to take risks, seize opportunities,
and bounce back from failures, then I had it easy. I taught her much
less than she revealed to me. I envied her passion. I relished her
unbridled joy. I admired her frenzied serenity.
demonstrated at a young age, was for flying, not sitting. Don’t hold
back. Jump. Jessica showed me the redemptive grace of leaping into faith
and fulfillment, as the English poet Christopher Logue did when he
wrote: ”Come to the edge. We might fall. Come to the edge. It's too
high! Come to the edge. And they came, and he pushed and they flew.”
Congratulations, graduate. Now fly.