Bess is my daughter and I’m her dad and we are connected in so many ways – we share the same stubbornness; we share the same ‘sense of humor’; we share the same need for organization in our world. She’s a worrier. She’s a take charge individual. And she is doggedly loyal. Her beauty and her kindness come from her mother but her determination and drive are compliments of yours truly.
In August of 1998 I knew that I had to let her go. I had spent 18 years telling her that she could do anything that she wanted to do – that she was only limited by her imagination. But I wasn’t really ready to let her prove it. Bess was smart and strong and full of confidence the day we dropped her off at the University of Wisconsin but to me she looked like the little kindergartner from twelve years earlier.
It was a hot day in August and her dorm room was in one of the high rise dorms without air conditioning – Wisconsin doesn’t usually get too hot, but that year was a scorcher. She seemed restless and it seemed that she wanted us out of her room; her school; her life! I remember her complaining about her dorm room and me reacting angrily. I tried to shame her by reminding her that many students couldn’t even get into Wisconsin and many more were deprived of college educations entirely. She left me with a quick kiss on the cheek and Debbie and I retreated to our empty mini-van and drove home.
It was a long quiet drive home. And quieter still when we arrived there. Bess’s send-off wasn’t what I had imagined. I offered no words of wisdom. She didn’t seem sad enough or nearly needy enough. It was obvious that she wouldn’t be lost without us. Fatherhood is a strange and wonderful occupation – I prided myself on having a strong and independent daughter and at the same time I needed her to need me – just a little. But God had gifted us with an intelligent and confident daughter who was ready to make her own way.
That was 12 years ago and today she is still an intelligent and confident young woman. She is married to a wonderful man – of whom I approve (as if that matters!). She is the mother of Anna (who may be the most amazing child ever) and is expecting her second child in September.
But that afternoon in August stays with me. I was afraid then that maybe I would become obsolete. Now I know that nothing could be further from the truth. I know that Bess does need me. She needs me to be her dad. I may be flawed and hopelessly inept but I’m the dad she’s got and she still needs me. She doesn’t need me to hold her hand crossing the street or to mend her scraped knee or to pay tuition anymore. But every time that she calls for advice or just to check in, I feel needed. We discuss very adult things now and she asks my opinion (and listens). We may not always agree on everything but we both agree that God has blessed us with one another.
Bess is my daughter and I’m her dad and we are connected in so many ways…