As I was sitting here at work, on my lunch break, I felt a knot build in my throat. Your mother and I had just been on the phone, discussing her cousin's wedding we will be taking you to in Joplin, MO on Saturday. Your mother, bless her kind soul, has volunteered to help her Aunt decorate and undecorate the church and reception area, which means that from about Saturday morning at 7:30 to until midnight, you and I will be together. As your mother described this to me, and I said "it will be fine, we'll go see the tornado damage or something" I must admit that in my head I was thinking what an intolerable nuisance you are. I began to think about last night, when I didn't have time for a bike ride because from supper until dark my life was dominated by putting away your laundry, helping you clean your room, helping you with your bath, getting you ready for bed, and reading you stories. I am now nearly 20 pounds overweight, and somehow that is your fault: before your birth I was 5 lbs. underweight. I began to think about how fun attending a wedding would be with just your mother, like your uncle's wedding we went to a few weeks ago where you grandparents took you home early so that your parents could be "free." I began thinking about what an incredible financial stress you are to me, because of your summer camps, your school, travel, food, toys, clothes... I made a mental tally, right here at work while chomping down a chicken breast, of the thousands of dollars I'd have in my checking account if it weren't for you.
And then, I stopped. Why was I doing this? How was it possible that I could consider my own child a nuisance? The answer filled me with such sorrow that I realized I must confess it. I take your love for granted. Since the first day of your short little life, you have been done nothing but love. You wake up in the morning and love breakfast: "this is the cereal of my life ever!" You play in the sprinkler like getting wet is all that matters. You love everyone you meet, even strangers (we'll need to talk about this eventually). You love food: "I love beef. I love potatoes. I love biscuits! I love milk!" (Dinner last night was beef & potatoes with biscuits and a glass of milk).
But perhaps worst of all is the fact that you unabashedly love your mother and father. No matter what happens, you love us. Unconditionally. Unfailingly.
Which means I can be a shitty father tonight and tomorrow you'll still love me. That kind of leeway is more than I deserve. That kind of leeway let's me cheat you.
Sometimes, in the evening, when we finish stories and I tuck you in to bed, I sing "The Johnny Appleseed Song" for you.
Oh the Lord's been good to me,
And so I thank the Lord-
For giving me the things I need:
The Sun, and the Rain, and the Appleseed.
The Lord's been good to me.
Child, you are my Appleseed. When I think of all the accomplishments of my life, the college degree, the graduate degree, the job, being published, being honored, being promoted, submitting my first patent, submitting my first major proposal...they all seem such tiny, inconsequential things in comparison with the simple existence of you, my daughter.
Last night, I snapped at you when you didn't want to finish your dinner. Then, when you were getting ready for your bath, I angrily sent you to time-out because you wanted more toys in the bath with you. How awful of you! Then, after I forced you to ask me nicely for the toys, I tossed them at you like a bully. Minutes later, I was grabbing your arm to hold you still so I could wash you. Then I laid out rules for spots in the tub where you were not allowed to use your bathtub soap-crayons. When you deviated even a little from that restricted zone, I confiscated them. When you wouldn't get out of the bathtub quickly enough (you were trying to perform some sort of song for me) I interrupted you and snapped at you to move faster. When you chose a long book as your first book of the night, I limited you to just that one book instead of your usual three or four...but it was mostly because I wanted to go be by myself and play on Facebook not because the book was overly long. Because apparently "me-time" is more important than teaching you to read. After you were in bed, I sat and talked to your mom about a "much needed" vacation we should take somewhere far away from you. Then I resented you for the guilt I felt about wanting an "adults-only" vacation.
This morning, I got ready as quietly as I could, because Heaven forbid I wake you up and have to see your smiling, loving face say goodbye to me as I leave for a long day at work.
And now, as I sit here at my cube, a strangling fear has filled me. How many more times will you tolerate this? How many times can I act like my little girl should be held to the same standards as a grown woman before you finally reject me?
I know this is a feeble attempt at contrition. If I said these things aloud to you, you would not possibly let me get through them all before your mind would wander and you'd move on. And even if you did let my speech go to its entirety, you wouldn't possibly understand. And that is because you are a little girl. A beautiful, sweet little girl with a gigantic heart the size of the Moon. The times you run up to me and bury me with a hug are proof enough of this. All too often, I visualize you as a grown woman, and expect things from you that you should not be expected to be able to do.
Tomorrow I'll be a better daddy. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will tell myself "she's only a little girl!" And I will love you, regardless.
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