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Running to Catch Her

Tags: father
My older daughter, Megan, recently turned sixteen. That can be a somewhat bittersweet birthday for a father, or any parent for that matter.

On the one hand you have a milestone birthday which you know she is excited to celebrate, because it ushers in the days of increased, independent mobility. In the eyes of a teen, the prospects offered by a driver’s license are no less than those considered by someone watching their cell door open at the end of a sixteen year prison sentence.

However, it isn’t only that independence itself which seems important to her. I think there is also an awakening which is happening at this age, a sense of maturing, or feeling that she is entering into the world of being a young woman.

It’s this last part that I find most frightening, actually. That she can move about in the world with more ease and without my help is something I’ve already had to learn to adjust to and accept. But, it is difficult for me to begin thinking of her as a young woman.

The realization and acceptance of what she is becoming runs contrary to the way I have always thought of both of my girls. I never considered it until recently, but I see now that I have always pictured them in a static state, either as the person I see them as now, or in the image I have of them from some point when they were younger. Often I find myself comparing the two, and wondering how we got from there to here. I’ve never really envisioned them in their futures, grown up, and away, probably out of self-protective reasons. It’s just never dawned on me to contemplate it. It’s beyond my horizons.

Parenting, for me, has been a satisfying, yet worrisome journey. When my first daughter was born, I have to confess that I’m not certain I was emotionally ready to be a father. I didn’t settle into a marriage until I was thirty-four, and she arrived in our lives just one year later. I had barely begun adjusting to being a husband—a life far different than the one I’d known—and then found myself thrust into yet another new, and even more challenging role.

I was afraid of the responsibility, or, at the very least, felt unprepared for it. I wasn’t sure I’d ever witnessed good parenting in practice, and, because I hadn’t really considered it a reality in my immediate future, I’d done nothing to compensate for that lack of role models, or prepare myself for it. I also knew it meant my life was changed forever, that it meant a commitment on a level I’d never before contemplated, and all that frightened me.

I think it took me nearly a year to adjust, for the full impact to really settle in. But, in time, I went from going through the motions of being a parent to deeply loving this little person who could, in turn, love me back, and return the affections I showed her. She gradually got under my emotional skin.

But that initial, unsettled feeling from those first days has never really left me completely. I think it comes from the understanding that, as a parent, you have to be the ultimate person responsible for someone else’s safety, well-being, and development toward a happy life. If anything goes wrong, there is no one else to call in for backup, and no one else but you to blame. You’re it. If you screw it up, you are responsible for the misery of someone you love.

After each of the girls were born, I had a recurring nightmare that would wake me. One of them would slip off the side of a boat we were in, out in the middle of a wide and deep lake. I would dive in after them, only to be unable to swim fast enough to catch them, and I would watch them slowly fade away from me and into the water column. Somewhere I read that kind of a dream is fairly common for new fathers. It’s our unconscious thoughts wrestling with, and working through, the fears and responsibilities we see as a father’s role.

Mix those concerns with the additional challenge of being a man who is a father of two daughters, and another set of complexities become involved. Try as I might to be sincere, or enlightened, or mature, or caring, or loving, or affectionate, or different, there are aspects of the girls' lives from which I will always be locked out. It feels unfair at times, but it is a simple truth with which I have had to deal and adjust.

With both of my daughters I have always felt like I am in uncharted waters. I’ve never been a girl, and I will never know what that life includes, no matter how much I try. And, because I always think of them in their current or prior state, and have a tendency to never think ahead in their lives, I always feel like I am playing catch up with them as they grow, mature, change, and evolve.

That same unsettled feeling.

A friend recently asked me something interesting: she wondered at which point a parent reaches that threshold of not acting on the cares and concerns they have for their grown, or growing children. “What is the difference,” she asked, “between worrying about what I do at 18 and while living at home, and being 28 and living out on my own?” The only answer I could muster was some sort of “out of sight, out of mind” rationale for behaviors and actions I would one day not witness. I had never really thought about that happening within the context of my relationship with the girls, and her question made me wonder where that point might be reached in our future.

Thinking of this brought me face to face with what must be a fear of every responsible and loving father: one day, in the not-so-distant future, they will both leave to live and experience the world on their own, and they will no longer need me.

And in considering that time and all that it implies, I realized how selfish I’ve been in fearing them growing up, and in never visualizing our separate futures. That fear is something self-serving. It is my worrying about my need being unfulfilled, instead of a selfless concern for their future and their happiness.

What I realized worried me most is that, in their maturing and needing me less, I am diminished in their eyes, and as a result of that, also diminished in my own eyes. I lose an importance I constructed myself, built possibly out of a need to add significance to my own life. I’ve let it fill gaps. I’ve let it define me. I suppose there are worse things a father could do, but I dislike discovering that I may not have been totally selfless in my motivation to care for them the way that I have.

I’ve often said that the single most gratifying, fulfilling thing I’ve ever done with my life was to rise to the challenge and privilege of being a father. Nothing else gives me more pride, or satisfaction, or sense of purpose.

But, that’s me, and not them. No matter how much it means to me, it is not theirs to share as either a feeling or a burden. My need to be their father is mine. It is also my duty to adjust appropriately in order to best serve them as their father. It has to be secondary to their need to grow, and feel independently strong, and empowered, so they may best face a world that is very challenging within which to find happiness, particularly so for women.

At some point, they must see me less as their father, and more as their equal, and I have to let go the fear and the pride I’ve deeply embedded in the role I so love. To a degree, I think, all that has already started to happen on Megan’s part. She is looking forward and into a future which holds so much promise for her, and will not includeas much, me. She’s already deciding that my job with her is nearly done.

I, on the other hand, have not been ready for that, and so I find myself—once again, and as so often before—running to catch up to her.
© 2012 Cody Kilgore. All Rights Reserved worldwide under the Berne Convention. May not be copied or distributed without prior written permission.

This post first appeared on Tomorrow, Full Of Promise, please read the originial post: here

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Running to Catch Her


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