Father’s Day, Part 2: An Open Letter To My Two-Year-Old Daughter, Who Still Can’t Read
Okay, Okay…so I’ve been a little slack in the blogging department. In my defense I spend my days writing, and once I’m done I usually want to lay comatose rather than scribble another sentence.
However, I promised last year I’d write my daughter a letter every Father’s Day, and promises involving my little girl are ones I don’t plan on breaking. So here you go:
It’s around 10:30 on Sunday night, aka Father’s Day #2. You’ve been asleep for a couple of hours, and tonight you were kind enough to let me read stories before bedtime. For the past few weeks, Mommy’s been playing first string – you’ll push me out of the room, shut the door in my face, even preemptively say “Night night, Dada” when you’re still getting your nightly bath, as if it wasn’t clear enough to your remedial father that story time is for you and Mommy alone. Now, your appetite for reading stories is voracious, and before you benched me I’ll admit there were a few nights when I would dread the endless requests for Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb. Now that Mommy is top of the roster, all I can think about is how much I miss reading that stupid book to you over and over again.
(In fact, it would be fair to say that up until lately you didn’t seem to have much use for me. I agree – the lack of lactating breasts was an issue, but it’s been a while now since Mommy turned off the taps, and while we have plenty of good days it’s pretty clear that in the order of important things in your life there’s Mommy, Lamby, Blankie, and running a distant fourth is the Dude Who Makes Monkey Sounds to try and make you laugh.)
Tonight, however, it was all different – Daddy got to pitch relief. I’d like to think you were able to intuit this was a special day for me – although it’s probably more likely you were too exhausted to protest. I’ll take it either way – you really made this Father’s Day for me, beyond merely being born or letting me read you Moo Book. You and mommy let me sleep in, gave me a couple of shirts, a wood chip smoker, salted caramels and nuts. It made me realize what little time it takes to actually qualify for proper Dad Gifts.
Today’s best present, though, was just hanging out with you. Your mom bought a soccer ball, and we spent a good part of the morning just kicking it around. You were absolutely elated – although that’s not new, since elation is one of your default settings (that, and profound anxiety). Seriously – your emotional responses lack any kind of volume control. It’s a bit early to say if it’s just a phase or a lingering character trait, but if forced to choose between the two I hope it’s the latter. When I think of the alternative – indifference, numbness, ennui – being consumed by your passions doesn’t seem so bad. I like the idea of you being as excited about the life ahead of you as you are today.
It’s because all the knobs on your amp are cranked to 11 that it’s thrilling to be around you. Just seeing you go nuts at discovering something for the first time (or in the case that rock pile we must always stop at on the way to the park – for the 30th, 40th, and 50th time), or realize you have the ability to climb steps on your own, or the fine motor skills to pick up beets with a fork – it’s a privilege to see it. I may not feel so privileged in a dozen years when you’re accusing me of ruining your life, but right now I’m just happy to be there, present in the moment.
I was having dinner with an acquaintance the other day, who told me about a mutual friend whose child was born the same time you were. My acquaintance said this father loves his daughter, but didn’t seem to get much joy out of being a dad. It may’ve had something to do with the feeling he lost some freedom, and no longer had time to do the things he wanted. I suppose I understand how he feels, but honestly it doesn’t square with me. I’ve done a lot of cool things, but at some point realized none of it was all that meaningful. I was missing something, then you came along, and it was all good.
I couldn’t say precisely how that happened or why, and then I saw this line in an article about heroism, and it all snapped into focus: “There is a craving for obligation that is as profound as the craving for freedom. On some level everybody understands that you can’t have freedom and prosperity without sacrifice.”
I’m not saying I’m a hero, but it is my job to care for you, to help shape who you are, teach you right from wrong, show you how to treat others as you’d want to be treated, and to make whatever sacrifices necessary to make sure you turn out okay. That’s my obligation, and because of it I don’t give much thought to opportunities I might be missing, or places I’m not going, or the interesting people I’m not seeing. People waste a lot of time thinking about that stuff, and it blinds them to great things right in front of them.
But Me? I’m right there with you, and when I am I’m not stressed, or anxious, or distracted. Sure, this could all change in ten years, but today as I stood there watching you kick a soccer ball, I swear I’d never felt so free. That’s the gift you give me every day, and not just on special occasions.
Sleep well, sweetie. I love you, and I love being your dad.
The Monkey Man