Nineteen years ago, today, at ten p.m. I became a dad.
My daughter was quiet at birth, not making the slightest sound the entire time and barely uttering a whimper when they pricked her heel for the PK test, a moment when most babies protest the loudest.
She has always been a quiet, introspective soul. That’s not to say she doesn’t get loud and animated with her friends, because she does, from time to time. But most her life has been spent in quiet, thoughtful softness. When she was four, we started attending a new church, and she enjoyed the group she was in. When she turned five, she was moved into the “five-year-olds” class and she was so upset by the noise level that they had to come find me in the sanctuary because she wanted to leave the room.
She doesn’t like to travel in a large pack, preferring instead to hold a few friends close and dear. I’ve wondered, in retrospect, if that isn’t simply a trust issue.
Life has disappointed her very early on. Her mom and I divorced when she was only eighteen months and it left scars that became roots that wound themselves deep into her heart. Her life was, and still is, defined by that divorce. Her mom remarried and moved on, and my daughter saw that as a form of abandonment. She lived with her mom, her mom had primary physical custody, but the fact that she had divorced me and married someone else, felt like she too was being divorced somehow.
I didn’t realize this was still an issue until she wrote the foreword to my most recent book; a book detailing the six years I spent homeless. I thought she’d write about my homelessness and my abiding love for her through the dark days. She did write about those things, but half of what she had to say, was about the divorce. How it hurt her and how all the sadness of the six years I lived in my car, could have been avoided had her mom not left.
I can’t fix that. I can’t undo it. And I don’t know how to help her heal right now.
She is a remarkable woman, this daughter of mine. She has one of the purest, most wonderful voices I have ever heard. She loves to sing and longs to make that her life. But her self-confidence was marred in the wreckage of a broken family and she doubts that she’ll get the same breaks she’s seen others get.
I try to tell her about making your own breaks, and working toward goals, but she’s seen my life and how hard that hard work part really is, and she wonders if she can cut it. So sometimes she gives up. I worry about her. I worry about a nineteen-year-old heart that has already seen so much disappointment and horror and has had much of its natural joy sucked out.
I wonder how I can inspire her to keep trying. To take her gifts more seriously, from the perspective of them being from God, and Him having a plan. A plan that cannot be thwarted. I wonder how to restore her faith in me, in other people, and in God. I wonder if her life is irreversibly damaged.
My grandmother had the same wonderful, sweet voice my daughter has. If this talent is inherited, that’s where it came from. My grandmother sang in “supper clubs” (popular in the day) in the 30’s and 40’s. Then she made some mistakes in life and stopped singing for anyone but herself. I lived with her until I was five, and that beautiful, lilting voice from the other room was one of my earliest memories. She only sang around the house by then. Only when my grandfather wasn’t around. Life, and a few bad decisions, stole her song and quieted her voice. She seldom spoke of her days singing, but when I could coax it out of her, she would get teary eyed and reminisce about how she loved to sing.
I fear that outcome for my daughter. I fear that life will steal the song from her heart and all her music will be locked behind some safe place in her soul, where nobody can damage it and the dream can remain perfect because she never failed, because she never tried.
I can’t believe nineteen years has come and gone already. I still feel like that nervous dad, holding her little form, wrapped tightly in a Winnie-the-Pooh receiving blanket, and telling her over and over –maybe 300 times in three hours that first night- that I love her and that I’m so happy to be her dad.
I can’t believe that at this age she has already endured divorce, the mental cruelty of her mother’s second husband, the homelessness of her dad, and the pain of leaving her life behind at 16. I can’t believe she’s an adult now and has a life that is entirely separate from mine.
Sometimes, I still hear her voice at age four, or six, or ten…asking me to push her on the swing for a few more minutes, or drawing out the plan for our garden, or laughing in a mountain of bubbles so big that I couldn’t even see her, because I’d put a scoop of “Mr. Bubble” in the Jacuzzi and turned the jets on “high.”
I know that God loves His children infinitely more than we love our own. But I have such a hard time grasping that, because I can’t imagine loving anyone or anything more than I love her. I can’t imagine there is anything in my grasp that I would choose over her, or withhold from her if she needed it. I can’t think of a dream she has that I wouldn’t sacrifice all my dreams for without hesitation. I would set my own dreams on fire to light the path for hers to come true. I would breathe my last breath into her lungs and do so with a smile and no regret.
Nothing about my life has been the same since that night, May 7, 1998, when she became a life and I became a dad. Every decision, every goal, the stubborn refusal to quit, and the drive to keep going, all came because I am her dad.
Happy Birthday Daisy. If the love of a dad is a guarantee of the success of your life, then you’ll win a Grammy someday. I love you more than words can say. The two best things God has ever done for me was sending His Son for my sins, and sending my daughter for my life.
I love you,