Tomorrow, you will turn 11. I can’t believe it’s been eleven years since you were born. Eleven years ago, most people were concerned with a huge presidential scandal that put the country on the road to impeachment, or with two baseball players who were on a collision course with home run history.
But, those things, in my mind, were only distractions. For on September 11th of that year, after the craziest 3 days I have EVER lived through, you came off a plane and into my life. You’ve heard the story countless times: the surprise call from your brother’s social worker, the frantic scramble made on both sides of the Pacific to get you home, the Northwest strike, the unexpected road trip to Detroit, your brother’s prescient reaction to meeting you for the first time (he was supposed to give you a toy – a photo op for the grandparents – but he instead threw it at you and walked away).
I know that sometimes you delight in these stories. Sometimes you roll your eyes. I understand both reactions.
What I haven’t told you is that I was scared to death that night. Excited, but scared nonetheless. Having only brothers when I was growing up, I knew nothing of girls, and knew I’d be winging it for the next 18 or so years.
For your part, you were afraid of me, as well. You took to your mother right away, but when I tried to hold you the first time, you pushed me away. I remember being disappointed – I had heard so much about the father-daughter bond, and at that moment, it looked like I’d never experience it.
That’s The Place we were when we first met: a little afraid of each other. It was the first of many Places we’d find ourselves through the years.
There was the Place where we had discovered each other’s imaginations. I would tell you Chicken Stories every Thursday night at bedtime, and you would take in every word, until you fell asleep. The next Thursday, you would retell to me all that you remembered, and I’d have to pick up the story where your memory left off and complete the previous week’s story before you’d let me move onto the next one.
There was the Place where you were hurting, after losing your grandmother and home and all your toys within the span of a couple of months. For the first time in your life, you started acting out. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do as a father, so I just loved you twice as much as before.
There was the Place where you discovered that I was wrapped around your finger, and learned to bypass Mom and ask Daddy first. And I gladly obliged, much to the chagrin of your mother.
There was the Place when we discovered just how alike we are. I remember so well, there was a particular day when your Mom and I were upset about something. You proceeded, without any prompting at all, to clean the kitchen. I was floored seeing this; I thought that particular behavior (cleaning when people in the house are upset) was my own strange behavior. I never taught you this. Let me tell you, to see yourself reflected in such a way is startling, and at that moment, I am certain I could not have loved you more.
So many of the Places are just blurs. I was so foolish, always rushing you on to the next stage of your life, never appreciating the Places we were, while we were there. Please forgive me.
I am trying so hard to appreciate the Place we are at right now. The fact that we sometimes seem like kindred souls – a mutual whimsical nature, being better at logic than we’d like to be (we both are drawn to the artistic side of life), the emotional sensitivity, even our taste in food.
I love your sense of humor. Never lose that. I love that you still have a sense of wonder, that something as simple as an icicle can bring squeals of delight from you. I love how you are smarter than me, but I am still Daddy. I love how we can have these incredibly deep conversations, and I learn as much from you as you learn from me.
The Place we are allows us to get into a water hose fight on a hot July evening, and not even need towels. We just sit on the front porch as the sun sets, and we feel the cool caress as the warm summer breeze dries us, and the fireflies begin to light, and we talk about nature, and you place your head on my shoulder – and I feel as if my body cannot contain the love and joy and beauty.
I do not want to leave this Place.
And yet, I can feel the tug of Time. I know the next Place is not far away. I can see it in the changes in your mood, the changes in your body, and to be honest, the changes in mine. You are so smart, and so kind – I truly can’t wait to see the things you are going to do with your life. But, for the first time, I am in no hurry to see those things. They can wait.
So, Trillian, before we move on, before every “I hate you!” and “I forbid you”, before boys, and clothes, and whatever causes you are going to dive into, before cars and tassels and fights and tears…
Can we not linger in this Place for a while? Let’s just breathe the air and sit side by side here, just being. I know your life is calling, and you’ll have to go…one day. I do not want to hold you back, but I would love to have just one moment more. Right here and now. We will never be in this Place again. Believe it or not, one day you will miss this place, too.
Can we not linger here, for just a little while longer?
Happy birthday, Trillian. I love you.