I took my daughter on a date tonight. A couple of months ago we were in a restaurant and I realised that soon some horny teenage slob with an awful haircut would likely be asking her out and she doesn’t really have any idea how she ought to be treated. So I told her that I would take her out, just she and I, to have some daddy-daughter time, and to show her how she should expect to be treated by a man.
I think I was unconsciously hoping for her to have some Wonder Years-like epiphany, where Daniel Stern’s voice-over comes on and says “Before that night, I’d never really looked at my father as anything but “Dad”, but here he was, a person with feelings and dreams and a whole life I knew nothing about. In that moment I saw my Dad as a man, imperfect but doing his best to raise me well” while some melancholy ditty plays in the background and brings a tear to the viewer’s eye. Of course, the reality was nothing like that. Tonight there were no deep and meaningful conversations. There was chatter about going back to school, about which of her friends had stopped speaking to which other friends and how she always felt caught in the middle, about Minecraft and having fun with her brothers, about clothes and other things she wanted. There was no big breakthrough, no awkward silences where both of us were unsure what to say. It was just…normal.
And you know something? Normal is just fine by me. One thing I’ve realised since having children is that the barometer of childhood happiness (or otherwise) doesn’t swing based on the big one-off events, the amazing birthday present or the surprise trip to Legoland, but on the cumulative aggregate of the hundreds of smaller events where you are their stability where there is uncertainty, their north star when they feel lost.
It can only be considered a success if you maintain the discipline to be that anchor for them for as long as they need you. Some day, she and the boys will want to cast off and go out on their own to live their lives. The best I can hope for is that they keep that anchor with them, knowing they can use it whenever they need to, that I’ll be there for them no matter what storms they have to endure.