I’ve learned many things as the father of teenage girls. I’ve learned to avoid the bathroom in the morning, for fear of being caught in the crossfire. I’ve learned to hide my wallet, for fear of having my cash exfiltrated. And I’ve learned that your hearts are still in the right places–even though your heads are sometimes poisoned by mysterious teen-girl toxins, which repeatedly possess you to roll your eyes and scream (particularly at your mother).
But perhaps the hardest thing I’ve learned is just how difficult it is to watch your daughter grow up–even when you know it’s totally natural, and even when you’re immensely proud of the young woman she’s becoming.
Wanting to Hold On
The simple truth is that, at some deep level, I will always picture you…
- Chasing lightening bugs at dusk among the trees behind our house
- Dancing through the living room in a pink tutu and fairy wings
- Singing Hannah Montana with reckless abandon
- Snuggling up beside me on the sofa to read Harry Potter
- Running from the school bus for a hug and a kiss
- Falling asleep in the back of the car and having to be carried to bed
- Thinking your dad is the strongest, bravest, smartest man alive
Those days, alas, are gone. I know this. Yet I forget it, repeatedly, because those days are part and parcel of the you I carry within me–a version of you I don’t want to let go.
I know there’s a sense in which that version of you is a fiction, a story I tell myself based on who you once were. But there’s another sense–also important–in which that you is just as real as any particular, present you. Because none of us is wholly defined by a particular present. Because you will always be my little girl, even if I have to let that little girl go.
Having to Let Go
As we approach some major end-of-year transitions, I saw a quote this week from the Persian poet Rumi. He wrote that “life is a balance between holding on and letting go.” He might have added that, for parents, it’s often an effort to hold on by letting go–to free your kid to fly farther and higher, not so they’ll disappear but so they’ll keep on coming back stronger.
Of course, as a parent, part of you never wants to let go. Part of you–maybe a big part–wants to cling to that little girl of memory, to hold her close and protect her, to save her from pain and fear and disappointment and even herself. And when that part of you starts speaking up, it takes every ounce of courage you have to remember that letting go is the only way to really hold on–not to the child who lights up your memory but to the young woman building a future you want to see.
Growth and change and movement are essential to life. Going forward and upward and outward has always been part of the plan. Really loving someone often means letting go.
So I tell myself in the ongoing effort to hold on without holding down. So I tell myself in the effort to face the future. So I tell myself until I don’t have to tell myself anymore–because eventually I remember a crucial truth: You were born to fly; you’re ready; and the sky is the limit.
I’ll be here whenever you need me. And so will your mother and your sisters. The latter will be fighting for the bathroom and searching for my wallet (in vain, I hope). But we’ll all be holding you close, no matter how high or how far you fly.