Yesterday I noticed the gap is closing between my height and my daughter’s. She’s growing up so quickly – too quickly if you ask me. 8 years-old will turn to 9 in a few months and ten will follow shortly after and on and on. So it is perhaps with a bit of melancholy, a heap of nostalgia and a dose of amazement that I take a moment to reflect on a period I expected would last much longer but didn’t. I wrote this essay six years ago and discovered it the other day while sifting through some writing samples. It reminds me of the swiftness of time and my daughter’s ability – even now – to make me cry.
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The corners of my mouth curled in a half smile the other day, when my friend told me how his wife cried as she carted their daughter off to kindergarten for the first day of school. I was breaking into a full toothy grin when it hit me: “Hey, you’re a father now, and in a mere four years, four months, three weeks and some days—THAT’S YOU!” Suddenly, laughter felt out of place and crying seemed a lot more appropriate.
Several months ago, my newly toddling baby girl shoved my hand aside as I tried to scoop a spoonful of carrot (or was it banana?) baby mush into her mouth. She wanted to feed herself and chose that moment to assert her newly found independence. In that instant, I realized the magnitude of her seemingly insignificant action: She needed me less—already. My face became flush; I turned my head and a tear dripped down my cheek. I cried.
Not too long before that, at her post-blessing reception, I thanked the guests for coming— for their support and all that stuff. Midway through my remarks, I made the mistake of glancing down at my baby’s delicate head—with its five months growth of curly, pre-afro hair—while saying something about how much she meant to our lives. Without warning, my vocal chords stiffened, my voice trembled, my jaw tightened and tears streamed down. Yep, I cried—in public!
The first day I held my daughter, her mother cried, as did everyone else in the room. All of the attention that day focused on the baby with her fire engine wail. I stood tucked behind my wife, hiding behind my eyeglasses, going unnoticed, my eyes filling with moisture.
To be sure, my daughter also has an uncanny ability to make me laugh—intense and honest belly laughs that reflect the joy my little girl brings to my life. Like when she tried to figure how to roll deodorant under her arms last month. You just have to laugh at that. Or when she calls our dogs Sam and Myles, “Nam” and “Myah” … that’s worth a good gut chuckle.
But it’s this emotional crying thing that has me confused. “A man ain’t supposed to cry,” is what Marvin Gaye sang. (But even he couldn’t hold back his tears once he “heard it through the grapevine.”) I’ve never even seen my dad cry. So how is it that my tear ducts flash into overdrive when it comes to matters of my nearly two-year-old baby?
As a former reporter, I’ve been in situations that should have weakened even the toughest lug; yet, I didn’t shed a tear. Like when I interviewed a mother whose 16 year-old daughter had been murdered the previous night following a high school basketball game; she bawled rivers–but me—no sir, not a tear. I’ve reported on soldiers’ tearful returns home and didn’t cry. I said “I do” to my wife and didn’t cry—maybe I should have cried then—but that’s just not me. Or at least it wasn’t me before Asher became a part of my home and enfeebled my heart.
“Asher” is my baby’s name; it means “happy.” She’s very happy and that makes me happy too. And perhaps it’s the profound intensity of that joy that makes me laugh so hard, I cry.
Could be it’s also the profundity of our still young and growing bond, I suppose. Or maybe it’s the matter of legacy; nothing unnerves me more than knowing that I will live on through this other person. Her innocence disarms me in ways I don’t fully comprehend. That she looks to me for all manner of guidance humbles me to the core. That she values me as a person, unconditionally—I suppose that’s the meaning of love.
It’s why I’ll probably cry again (in private) when she boards the yellow bus that first time, or when she sings her first solo in church, or as I hoist her trunk up to her college dorm room.
Heck, I’ll probably squeeze one off when her husband pulls back the veil to kiss his beautiful bride. Frankly, my friend will probably do the same thing at his own daughter’s wedding, even if he must hide behind his eyeglasses and his wife.
August 24, 2003
(c) Copyright 2003, 2010 Jonathan Clarke All Rights Reserved