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A birthday present for A
Today is a very special day. As you read this, my daughter is turning five. Five years ago this little girl came into my world, and she instantly figured out what it means to have her dad wrapped around her pinky finger. Sometimes she even remembers to use that power for the forces of good. I didn’t write this piece for her birthday, but it was ready just in time. When the universe lines up, I’m going to run with it. So this is my birthday present to you, A, my love. I hope you enjoy.
A genius lives in the room next to me. She hasn’t been tested for genius level IQ. They don’t do IQ tests in preschool - do they? She can’t derive analytical solutions to differential equations in her head while she recites Prospero’s second speech from The Tempest and cooks a masterful souffle. Those geniuses are a dime a dozen anyways. No, my five year old daughter is a genius after my own heart – a master of words.
Okay, not all words. Really just two words. But with those two words she can melt me into a puddle of dad-goo, incite anger so quickly that my once iron resolve to have patience feels about as effective as the Maginot Line, or pierce my heart with such fear that Stephen King would be green with envy. Those words?
I don’t remember the first time those two musical words rang from her tiny mouth and blessed my ears. One day “dada” turned into “dad” and “hi” morphed into “hey.” None of those are memorable, but the combination of hey and dad into hey Dad is unforgettable.
Every day starts and ends with hey Dad. It’s the first sweet lyric when she comes shuffling into my room, coral and sunflower striped unicorn pajamas hiding under her messy brown curls. (At least, until she demanded a haircut and now has shoulder length brown locks that don’t cover her pajamas. That conversation also started with hey Dad now that I think about it.) She shuffles her way over to my chair, crawls into my lap, puts her head on my shoulder, and asks “hey Dad, will you read to me?” It’s the last note as our day is ending. She’s out of the bath, back in those unicorn pajamas, and crawling into bed, when she looks at me with an eager smile “hey Dad I want you to read to me.” And then “hey Dad can I have snuggles?” Even “hey Dad, I love you” as I close the door behind me.
Everything between the bookends is not always quite as sweet. There’s the hey Dad that comes after her brother has punched her, or kicked her; right before she’s about to tear his head off. Sometimes I think that hey Dad is her way of hoping I’ll stop her before she unleashes her fury. I never catch her in time.
Other times hey Dad fills me with anxiety. I cringe when I hear “hey Dad come look what I did.” There was the time when she made her own gymnastics gym in our living room and the plastic lid – her trampoline – broke into infinitesimally small shards of plastic all over the carpet. It took twelve days and many more runs of the vacuum before I stopped stepping on sharp shards of that damned lid. Even Dyson couldn’t compete with her imagination. Another time she threw every piece of clothing she owned onto her floor, looking for just the perfect outfit for her stuffed unicorn. She showed true genius level mastery when we told her to clean the clothes up. “Hey Dad, you can do it!”
Then there’s the hey Dad that fills my body with fear. “Hey Dad, look what I can do with your kitchen knife” is a recent memory. Or “hey Dad, I got your chainsaw down and brought it to you.” And once there was “hey Dad, I kinda sorta dropped your guitar and I think it’s broken. It’s okay though, right?”
Hey Dad can be coupled with every emotion her five year old body has. And she’s a genius at emotions. Her face scrunches up in frustration when I’ve been ignoring her. Hey Dad comes out an octave higher than normal. When I pick her up from school, hey Dad announces confidently that she’s about to teach me some new fact she just learned. Did you know that jumping spiders can see colors we can’t? Neither did I – until she taught me. She even has a calm wisdom when she is helping her brother through a tough time. “Hey Dad, I’m gonna give him my stuffy and some water.” I don’t know who is more overcome with love in those moments, her or me. There’s even a hushed hey Dad as she’s reminding me that “when you lose your patience, it just takes longer. So take a deep breath with me Dad.”
I want there to be many more hey Dads. I hope hey Dad means I get to be there for her before her first date. I’ve been practicing my “if you hurt my daughter” speech since the day she was born. I hope that it means she’ll come talk to me the first time someone breaks her heart. We’ll cry together when she comes to me saying hey Dad.
I know there will be a day when hey Dad signals a reversal in roles – when she is now the teacher and I’m the student. One day she’s going to tell me, “hey Dad, I’m not a little girl anymore. I can handle this.” She’ll be thoughtful enough to add “you did your job, it’s my turn” – after all I won’t be ready yet. She’s got enough genius to know.
One day I’ll hear “hey Dad, I think he’s the one” and “hey Dad, you’re about to be a grandfather.” Hopefully I’ve got time before that. And maybe she’ll think I’m cool enough and wise enough to talk to me if she decides college isn’t for her, or she wants to live abroad, or whatever other adventures call to her heart. She’s got an adventurer's heart and a take no shit strength that will guide her for life.
In my wildest hopes and dreams, I can even see forward far enough to hear “hey Dad, thanks for everything. I’m really going to miss you.” Even as I hear hey Dad less and less, I think that’ll be a pretty good end.
To the rest of the world hey Dad may not be a genius skill. But this particular genius isn’t for the rest of the world. It’s my secret. And so I pick up my little genius, let her grab my neck, pull me close, and breathe deeply into my ear. I savor what comes next.
If you liked this piece, it would mean the world to me if you’d wish her a happy birthday. We’ll read every comment together.
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