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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
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.