Pomona College Magazine
Volume 41. No. 2.
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Online Editor: Mark Kendall

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Editor: Mark Wood
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Just a Phase

SEVEN PHOTOS, UNDER GLASS, IN A BLACK WOODEN FRAME: that’s what my daughter gave me for a recent birthday. Seven memories—her carefully selected favorites—of the two of us together. Me with no gray in my beard, her as the little girl I remember so well that sometimes I expect to turn around and see her standing behind me. There are happy times captured in each one of these photos—a miniature train-ride at the zoo, a blue ribbon for the fastest four-year-old at the Ozark Scottish Festival, a day at the beach. But the photo that always stops my eye is the one at the top left corner: me in a hospital shower cap and green robe, mask crumpled under my chin, holding a little personage whom I’d barely met. This photo, in which our eyes seem to be locked—like some sort of textbook illustration of the gestalt of parental bonding—was taken on the morning of Sunday, June 16, 1985.

It was Father’s Day, and I’d been qualified to celebrate it for approximately 30 minutes.
Today I’ve been a father for going on 21 years, and yet, in some ways, the experience is just as much a mystery to me now as it was then. Looking at these photos, I find myself trying to connect the dots between that merry child and the complex and independent young woman who gave me this gift. Despite the fact that I watched her grow, day by day, from one into the other, the link sometimes seems tenuous as a thread.

Certainly, the memories along the way weren’t all like these photos. There were uncertain times. Times of fear and doubt. Misunderstandings and confrontations. Harsh words and awkward silences. Times when I was sure that I was the most clueless parent in the world. Times when she would have enthusiastically seconded that assessment. There are whole years of our life together that now seem to have dropped out of time, like years spent in prison. Years when I seemed to watch her going through her life from a great distance, as if on closed-circuit television, or in one of those bad dreams where you see someone about to drive off a cliff and when you try to call out to them, your voice comes out as a strangled whisper.

But just as the little girl in these photos morphed into a rebellious and anguished teen, she in turn morphed into a proud and responsible young woman. It’s a magical transformation that is as predictable as the cycles of life, and yet it always seems to be happening for the first time.

Before this birthday, my favorite gift from my daughter was a Father’s Day card that she gave me the year she turned 18. I use it as a bookmark, and occasionally I pause to read it again. On the outside, it says, “Dad, when I was little, you knew everything. Then I got older, and you didn’t know anything. Now you know everything again.” Open the flap, and it concludes, “Must have been a phase you were going through.”

Yes, it must have been. But these seven photos—these wonderful memories—remind me that I’m not the only one who misses the irreplaceable closeness and magic of those early, innocent years, when Daddy knew everything.
—Mark Wood
©Copyright 2006
by Pomona College
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