“Your Call, Dad “
ã By Jack Bogut
Time creeps through our lives on silent feet.
We don’t hear it or feel it. In many cases we don’t even notice how it changes things. We look either beyond or around that which is right in front of us in hopes of seeing what we want to be there. Hindsight calls this “taking things for granted.” It had happened to him and he didn’t like it.
He’d seen her almost every day she’d been on this earth but hadn’t always noticed her. Sometimes he was not consciously aware of her presence. He simply accepted her as a part of his life, a large part, but routine enough to get lost in the daily struggle for success and order.
Then he began to notice that her time away from him and his influence were becoming more frequent, slowly at first, but picking up speed and frequency until he could see no way to stop her independence.
She started to form important relationships outside the family, and replaced each of his absences, each disagreement they had, each uncomfortable void between them with a growing life and mind of her own. The one constant that continued to bind them together was a sense of humor. That was their special connection. They loved to needle and torment each other and never missed an opportunity. In fact, when it came to either of them kidding the other, there was no sacred ground, and she was absolutely fearless.
Many of his stern lectures were totally defused when she refused to take him seriously; and just as many of her tantrums and tirades were lost in reluctant laughter when his eyes twinkled in the middle of her crisis.
Now things were transforming and he suspected she either didn’t care or was totally oblivious to his discomfort as the inevitable but natural distance between them grew.
He was also painfully aware that she was making choices independent of his advice and counsel. Instead of asking him what she should do, she would simply tell him what she had done. Occasionally he was saddened to the point that he mentioned it to his wife. Her response was always something like:
“Don’t forget, she’s growing up! You can’t stop or delay it. This is the way it’s supposed to be.”
Fortunately, women are instinctively wise in the way of family. With all their children, both sons and daughters, Mothers expect, recognize and adjust gracefully to change.
Fathers do this more easily with sons. With daughters, fathers want things to stay the way they were when life was safe, uncomplicated and predictable, when other males did not vie for their daughter’s attention and feelings. And there was no chance.
First there was middle school with friends and ersatz boyfriends. That was fairly easy. After all, good family life is not a democracy. He could simply say no if he disapproved and that was the end of that.
Then there was high school and legislating his will was less effective. There were more social hazards and, fortunately, fleeting romances. And then, college, with the uncertainty of knowing she was truly on her own without supervision and the hope that her values were good enough to keep her safe and connected to the family. It didn’t keep him awake at night but both he and his wife wondered and talked about it. She was a good kid with a good sense of morality and ethics and, above all, good instincts. But there were so many outside pressures…
Then finally—finally— there was a fiancée who did measure up, but who was too much like himself at that age. That scared him as much as anything. He remembered vividly his own confusion and indecision. He could not forget how he floundered through life until he found himself, or the many times he stood on the brink of disaster, fascinated with the danger, intrigued by the unknown, and stepped back just in time, adrenaline pumping through his system, to savor the moment. Would this young man make the same scary journey, the same rites of passage, successfully, as he had? Or was he mature enough to take responsibility for his daughter, his treasure, and not squander it while he looked for identity and purpose in life? Statistically, marriage was, at best, a fifty/fifty proposition. He wanted better odds than that for her.
And now, here he was, wearing a starched shirt with a collar that poked hard at his Adam’s apple, patent leather shoes that had never felt good, and a forced smile that threatened to fall off his face and reveal his mixed emotions.
He felt his heart pounding in his fingertips as he stood, arms at his sides and waited for her to appear.
It was sound before sight as her gown rustled and brushed things in the dressing room off the hall. When she floated through the doorway and smiled at him, his eyes filled up and ran over. She stopped and looked him in the eye smiling softly as she nodded and said,
“Me too, Dad.”
Her eyes sparkled as she took his arm.
“Come on. I think they’re getting restless in there.”
“Do we really have to do this?” He asked, lowering his chin and looking over the top of his glasses.
She tilted her head and gave him one of those looks.
“Well, I guess we could skip this part and Mark and I could just live together! But we’d like to have the reception anyway. After all, we couldn’t just send people home without feeding them. And we have to have something to do until the plane leaves for
Bermuda. What do you think? Your call, Dad.”
He just smiled and shook his head as if to say, “You never let up, do you?” and pointed to the door.
Then it was three steps through the doorway and they were off, moving slowly in unison down the aisle. And even though they walked together, there was no doubt that they were going in separate directions for the rest of their lives.
The trip along the shiny, white road to the altar was smoother than he thought it would be. He needn’t have felt self-conscious at all. There were nods and smiles and whispered greetings from friends and family but most of them were for her. And they should have been. At that moment, she was easily the most incandescent, beautiful creature in the universe.
One of his buddies whispered loudly, “Thank God she has her Mother’s looks!” And he couldn’t have agreed with him more.
When the minister asked,
“And who gives the bride away?” the silence in the church was almost deafening as the answer he’d so carefully rehearsed caught in his throat.
When the minister asked again, he still stood there, mute, unable to speak until she turned slightly and looked at him again, one eyebrow raised, a half smile on her beautiful face. Her expression spoke the words,
“Well, your call again, Dad!”
And he said quietly,
She had no idea how much he was going to miss her.