A letter to my daughter on her 11th birthday

The following is a letter to my daughter who turned 11 this week.

Dear Haley,

Happy 11th Birthday!

You’re now old enough to know that after all the books, after the classes, after all the stuff– the crib, the bottles, the baby wipe warmer, the jars of mashed apricots, after the advice from your grandparents and webmd, after painting your room and hanging up the curtains and plugging in the nightlight, and after convincing myself I’m ready to be a parent, 11 years later–I’m still not ready to be a parent.

11 years ago, a nurse loaded you and your mom into the back seat of our silver Chevy Malibu, shut the door, stepped back, smiled, waved and suddenly our lives began together.

Jarring as it was, sometimes life is neatly divided into the before and after.

One day you’re swimming in your mother’s womb and the next day you’re here, swaddled in a car seat, breathing the same air as me, waiting for a ride home.

I remember driving you home from the hospital.

The engine hummed and I tried to comprehend how 9 months blinked by as you lay snuggled in the back seat with your blue eyes fixed out the back window, watching the world in reverse.

Nervous and sleep deprived, I ordered myself to pay attention to the road, turned off the radio, checked mirrors, and locked my hands on the steering wheel at the recommended 10 and 2 positions.

And in that moment it became strikingly clear–-I was your dad. My sole responsibility was to drive my most precious cargo, you and your mother, 4 miles from hospital to home.

From point A to point B without incident.

Haley, you’re 11 years old now and some things have changed.

You’re taller, smarter, louder and more self-sufficient then I could ever imagine.

You have a retainer now. You know how to divide, multiply, work an IPad and yesterday you informed the popular exports of Aruba. 

You like writing. You like imagining stories. You like playing with words. And sometimes when I’m writing you lean over my shoulder and watch my words appear on the screen only to be revised, deleted, and appear again.

Many times you’re my first reader. And I’m proud to show you how a final product is made. Through starts and stops. Through edits and revisions. Through persevering despite your imperfections. Through enjoying the process.

Being a teacher has taught me to better empathize with girls. There remains a silly belief that girls are held to higher standards than boys. For a long time, shamefully, I held such belief. You’re a girl. You’re expected to perfect. Know all the answers. Look pretty. Remain composed and in control. All the time.

But please understand something–you won’t.

Things will go wrong. Perfection is purely myth. But accepting and refining your imperfections, which takes courage, is how you build confidence and resolve.

Plus, your imperfections—your morning breath, they way your right eye squints in the hard sunlight–make you unique.  And your imperfections are what I love about you.

I have two brothers. Your uncles.

As a kid, I was raised on pro wrestling and household weaponry.

I spent most of my young life on athletic teams bolstered by boys, roughhousing with my brothers, proving my toughness, my invulnerability.

So understand, fathering a daughter is a little odd for me. A bit strange. Some days you’re a familiar mystery–I know you but I don’t.  Some days I don’t know what to do with you.

Some days I stare at you, see you smile, cartwheel across the house and watch your blue eyes sparkle in the sunlight and wonder how all this incredible stuff happened.

And I some days wonder how I’ll handle all the incredible stuff and painful stuff that’s yet to come.

Watching you grow up is both exciting and terrifying.

As we stand at the threshold of those tumultuous adolescent years, I’ve been thinking about what kind of dad do you need right now?

The answer, I believe, is a simple one.

You need the dad who drove you home from the hospital 11 years ago.

A dad defined is a good driver. Present. Focused. Anticipates dangers. Ignores distractions. Guides their passengers to their destination. 

A dad helps his child get from point A to point B.

And whether point B is your next birthday or some prom dress calamity or marriage or motherhood, if I did my job, if I was the dad you deserved, you’ll be prepared.

Like our first car ride together there remains certitude: I’m responsible for you. No matter your age or crisis and no matter how nervous and sleep deprivation I am, my job is getting you from point A to point B. 

Fatherhood is not about meddling or interjecting or filling your head with fiction. In fact, fatherhood isn’t about the father at all. It is and always will be about the livelihood of the child. 

In 7 years you’ll be 18 and things will have undoubtedly change.

You’ll be driving yourself, making your own choices, and teetering on the edge of adulthood. And though you may not need me in same ways you do now–my job description remains the same.

You will always need me to remain vigilant and focused. To keep two hands on the wheel even when he is nervous and scared and uncertain.

You’ve entrusted me to listen, eliminate distractions, anticipate danger, embrace the incredible ride of life.

And my girl–I will not let you down.

Happy Birthday!



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