I wrote this sixteen years ago…
My first-born is leaving home. Twenty years after she was born, and maybe two years later than I had expected, my blue-eyed baby girl is leaving home.
This is the child that absolutely changed the course of my life. When I was twenty, I was dating her mother. I was in the throes of finding the real meaning of maturity when I discovered that in a few months, I would be the father. Little did I know what would be in store for me, or how my much my life would change.
I have been told that the real definition of love is the love a parent has for his child. In the case of my first born, it was as if somebody took a pole and stuck it into the small of my back. I stood up straighter. I saw something bigger than myself, more important than I’d ever feel.
It is hard to talk about your kid without moving into the same tired, worn out clichés that describe love, parenting, bonding and all else that is associated with having a child. I love this child. There is nothing this child could do to make me not love her. She has been extraordinarily easy to love. Her wonderfully, sensitive soul is shouldered by a fierce sense of adventure. She is hard to influence, yet easy to compromise. She has a great sense of constancy in life: she gets up, goes to school, comes home, goes to work, comes home, goes out. Repeat pattern tomorrow. Change a little on the weekend.
It pains her to hurt anyone’s feelings, and she cries easily. Yet, when angered…well, let’s put it this way: I have made peace with death. I am scared of my daughter’s temper.
She is leaving with her boyfriend. She is making a decision to live with this guy. Actually, that’s not exactly true. She has a chance to go to live at a ski resort and receive inexpensive housing, a decent part-time job (pretty good pay, free snowboarding), and attend a school three miles away. I’m not wild about the idea of her leaving. I am far less enthused about her living with…him. A nice boy, tries hard, looks me in the eye most of the time. It matters not. This is my first-born he’s hanging around with. Even if this guy was born to wealth, education, and dignity and shared all of my interests, I would still be looking in the phone book under “Leg Breakers R Us” to keep this kid honest.
She is a little wary of my temper, which bothers me. When she was younger, I was younger, too. I think I yelled way too much. When yelling is done in the presence of a sensitive sweet soul, they always walk a little lighter in your presence. Which, I think, is partly why I found out about her leaving from her mother. I thought that she was avoiding telling me in order to avoid conflict. Conflict with my daughter makes her cry. Just with me, nobody else. When she and I have words, she cries. She will yell, scream, kick, throw appliances, and literally take over the room when she’s angry with anyone else. With me, she cries.
So it was with distinct apprehension that I approached her about her imminent move. I told her I found out about her plans, and wondered if she was still going through with it. She said she was. I then asked, with as much gentleness as possible, what had kept her from telling me?
She didn’t pause. She didn’t miss a beat. She turned very cleanly. For a moment, I thought that she was going to get upset, gauging her position before firing the first volley in her defense. Instead, she looked at me and said that she didn’t tell me she was leaving because…
…she was afraid she’d hurt my feelings.
I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten a present from a small child. When you get it, no matter how it’s made, what wrapping it comes in, it is a precious thing. It was made from their heart.
Her statement, being considerate of my feelings, was as nice a gift she’d ever given me.
I began to cry, and I held her to give her tears a place to land on my shoulder. I love her so much. I know it’s the right thing to do, and that she will be OK. I miss her so much when she’s gone. Her presence in my life, and the life of my family, makes things better, more cohesive, just a great deal happier. Letting her go will be hard.
But, finding a Leg Breaker in the phone book will be harder.
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