My daughter, my younger child, is getting married soon. In a footlocker where I stash keepsakes, I have the cranberry corduroy jumper she wore that always turned my insides to butter. I also have her favorite toy and the first book she ever read. She was precious beyond description. She still is.
Her fiery independence and steel resolution people say she got from me. Upon being told that she was a little version of me, her grin would reach almost to Jupiter. When both of my children were helping me bring in firewood, she insisted on carrying an extra stick of the wood I had split just to show me she was tough. She had lean way back to create enough of a cantilever to make it from the barn to the front porch. When I let her sit in my lap and steer the tractor, she assumed a cunning look even Machiavelli would have admired.
To cure her fear of witches, I used a two-pronged approach. To blunt the fear, I crawled in the bed beside her with a big flashlight in my hand. I had made her memorize the room before I turned out the light. Periodically, I would switch on the flashlight and shine the beam around the room, asking her if anything had moved or changed in the slightest. Without warning, I bolted from the bed and flung open the door to her closet. We examined it together: nothing was out of place or lurking. I explained to her that since our eyes are made for light, when the light goes away, our minds try to fill in the missing information for the brain by imagining that darkness actually makes things happen. Once she saw proof that nothing in her room changed just because it was dark, I appealed to her logic. As we were gazing up at the glowing galactic stickers I had stuck on the ceiling above her head, I set the trap.
“You know that K-Mart sells everything, right?” She agreed.
“Okay. So if witches were real, and witches are so mean and scary and hurt things all the time, people would need insurance to pay for damage that those mean old witches would make, right?”
Again, she agreed. “So, if witches were real, and not just something people make up for fun, then K-Mart would sell witch insurance, right?”
Reluctantly, she agreed. “Here’s the deal. K-Mart does not sell witch insurance because witches are not real. Nobody sells witch insurance. You couldn’t buy it if you had a zillion dollars.”
“Thanks, Daddy,” she said quietly. “Guess what, Daddy?”
“Sometimes when I get scared of the dark woods behind the barn or I am afraid there is a monster in my room, I get real quiet and still. Then I hear you snoring and I am ok. You are my lighthouse, Daddy. Your snoring is light from the lighthouse and I know it comes all the way down the long hall to my room. I can sleep then. Your light protects me. No witch or monster would mess with my daddy.”
Her mother and I were no longer married when I took her to Paris for her sixteenth birthday. I had her hair done on the Champs-Elysees, her portrait drawn on Montmartre, and introduced her to fine dining in one of the best restaurants in Paris. This was our time to re-connect and we did.
Because she did not live with me when prom night arrived, I did not get to witness the hysteria of her fussing about to get ready. But I was there when she was dressed and waiting for her date. I did get the satisfaction of giving her date my Charlie Manson stare. Seeing her so womanly brought sadness to my heart but I did not let her see that. I wanted her back in her jumper, eager to embrace the world and thrilled that I was her tutor in the art of being human.
When she went to college, I tried not to venture into her college world. I went to her dorm room once and to one football game but otherwise left her to savor that first marrow of independence. When she went to law school, I was already accustomed to her being a grown woman and to not seeing very much of her. Since her engagement, she has repeatedly mentioned that she is grateful for the way she was raised. I know she will be a wonderful mother. If she ever has a daughter of her own, then I will retrieve the sacred jumper, give it to my baby girl, and feel my insides turn to butter one last time as I remember a day when she was the golden essence of humanity and I was god.
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