I remember staring down at a plastic stick resting on the bathroom counter waiting for a pink line to appear. The line itself was small (no more than an inch long) and barely visible, but it represented a huge change in my life.
I would no longer be just Jeff. I would also be Dad.
My wife and I didn’t know if we had a son or a daughter, nor did we want to find out until our child was born. But we prepared for the change as any set of doting parents would. We painted the baby’s room; bought toys, diapers and clothes; and waited anxiously for that fateful day to come.
When it did, 10 years ago this September, I learned I was the father of a baby girl we named Celeste. I could not have been happier, and have played a major role in her life.
My back still hurts from the 1,673,937 circles I walked around our kitchen hunched over as I held Celeste’s hands while she learned to walk. She always wanted one more spin across the linoleum.
My arms are still sore from catching her the 935,074 times she jumped to me from the side of our neighborhood swimming pool as I stood in waist-deep water. She always wanted to do “just one more time.”
And my cheeks are still wet from the tears of joy that ran down them the moment I helped her learn to ride her bike. The image of her smile is carved into my memory.
But adolescence is approaching, and Celeste is starting to need me less, or at least she’s starting to think she needs me less. She still asks me to go outside with her to play, but is quick to leave me behind if she hears her friends running around. It’s only natural for a child to want to play with friends, so I always gracefully tell her to go play as I watch from afar.
During these first 10 years of Celeste’s life, she had no choice but to look to me and her mother for assistance because we were her world. But her world is expanding, and I need keep up with it.
She doesn’t need me to teach her how to walk or ride a bike any longer. The lessons in these next few years are about to become much more complicated: morality, boys, tobacco, boys, alcohol, boys, drugs, and boys.
I’ll need to find that perfect place of fatherhood in which I can assert my influence without seeming overbearing or controlling — both of which quickly turn adolescents away from their parents.
That place does not come about with the flick of a switch or the twitching of a nose. It takes work, a foundation built upon mutual respect and forged with time. And I’ll start on May 14-15, or the National Daddy-Daughter Tea Date.
The day is billed on Facebook as “the rally call for men to invest in communicating how truly significant our daughters are to us in the hope that we can change the culture of sexting, poor body image and other issues which often begin in women’s life as a result of absent of disconnected fathers.”
While Celeste and I probably will not drink tea (milk and donuts are more up our alley), the choice of drink is not as important as choosing to set aside time alone with my daughter so she understands how important she is to me.
After all, she may no longer need me to catch her at the pool, but she needs to know I’ll still be around to catch her when she falls.