One of the toughest parts of being a parent is when it comes time to let go and give our kids their wings. I know it was for us. This post includes a letter that deals with our struggle. It was written to my daughter, Brittany, upon her graduation from high school.
April 22, 2012
The first time I saw you, I thought it was the best day of my life. I was wrong. It’s been every day since.
The best day of my life was when I discovered you could blow raspberries. Of course, I would have preferred not to discover your newly found skill in the middle of a quiet furniture store. The best day was when I would come home from a trip and you would yell, “Daddy,” as you came running to jump into my arms. It was when the Easter Bunny at the mall scared the crap out of you. It was when I watched you sleeping while clutching your stuffed animal, Pecky, tight.
It was when we fed you as an infant and you’d close your eyes and shake your head when you were full. It was when I discovered you had filled all the pages in my brand new boat log book with squiggles while practicing your “writing.” It was when you fell asleep while riding in your Barbie Jeep, and I watched you ride in circles. It was when we drove by Jack Watson power plant belching steam on a chilly winter day and you said, “Oh, so that’s where they make the clouds.”
It was when you fell down and skinned the joint in your arm you called your “rainbow.” It was when it was storming and you wanted to take along a “rainbrella.” (I always thought that was a much better name than umbrella.) It was when I took the training wheels off your bike and you immediately rode nonstop down the street. (The stopping part was a little ugly at first but you eventually mastered it too.)
It was when you caught your first world record fish. It was when we would sing silly songs as I drove you to school. It was every time we built a gingerbread house. It was when we went to the New Orleans zoo and you got so much food on the front of you that I had to buy you another outfit so mom wouldn’t be embarrassed when we went to meet her later. It was when we brought you back to the boat in Panama City wearing the Hooters tank top you had begged me to buy you – much to your mother’s chagrin.
My best day was when you laughed and made fun when I fell in the water at the Yacht Club, right before you caught your first “polka dot fish.” It was that day when I offered to either take you to a movie or … go get a puppy, and Skippy came into our lives.
It was when I took you to get your driver’s license, and then saw your smile when I handed you the keys after you passed. It was when we bought your first car and you slid into the driver’s seat beaming. It was when you earned your TaeKwonDo black belt – one of the many, many honors you have achieved during your 18 years. It was that time you said, “Mommy, I love daddy the most.” (Okay, I made that part up.)
There have been some bad days along the way. Like the time you fell while jumping on your bed and cut your eye, where you still wear the scar today. Or the night you called us while we were waiting for you at the restaurant on your 16th birthday and had badly sprained your ankle. But then, you made me proud when you refused to let your injured ankle keep you from being a flag bearer at the Mardi Gras ball. But the worst day of my life is a tie.
It was when you fell to the bottom of the pool at the Boscobel Resort in Jamaica wrapped in a towel, and nearly drowned. And it was when, much to my horror, you climbed outside the fifth floor balcony railing of the condo we were staying at in Gulf Shores. I snatched you back , and then spent the next several days with my stomach convulsing each time I remembered what happened. I am certain that I will not reach the age I might otherwise have achieved, as a result of the years taken off my life by these two incidents.
You have always been so very good. I have a difficult time recalling more than one occasion in which I had to punish you. (Of course, you may recall more.) If God had let me have a voice in your creation, I can’t see how I would have changed a thing. You remember when I used to ask you, “Why did God make you?” Then I went on to teach you the answer to my own question, “To see how perfect a little girl He could create.”
Gosh, how do I begin to describe what a wonderful daughter you’ve been and how much joy you’ve brought into our lives? I remember that time you went to Bible School with your Great Aunt Helen. Though you were far away from home and knew none of the other kids, you comforted another child who you noticed was having a difficult time. What a wonderful grand-daughter you were to my mother while she was still with us, and how wonderful you have been to my dad since. Even as a very young child, you always demonstrated such good character.
If I had to pick a single word to describe you, I’m afraid I couldn’t. You are smart, compassionate, considerate, and beautiful. You are a strong leader, disciplined, fair, honest, ambitious, respectful, generous, diligent, conscientious … the list goes on and on. You have excelled at nearly everything to which you have aspired.
You have made me more proud than any father has a right to be. I can’t even begin to count the times people have gone out of their way to compliment you, and to tell me what a wonderful daughter you are. I always smile when I tell them that they are absolutely right, but then, I’m not objective. You truly are a special young woman.
Your mother and I have tried to shelter you from most of the bad that life can bring. But as you embark on your own journey, I regret that I can no longer be there to do the same. I wish I could, but I just can’t.
I wish the world were made of people filled with your kindness—but it isn’t. Evil does exist, and there are people who will seek to hurt you, to take advantage of you, and to use you. It eases my mind only slightly that I think we have done everything we could to prepare you to deal with the bad side of life. I remain confident that you will do as well as anyone can.
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But having your heart broken, your feelings hurt, and sometimes having your body broken as well are all part of growing up. Though not the fun parts, these events make us stronger. Katrina was a terrible storm, but you weathered her beautifully. If you retain even a fraction of the wonderful qualities you have developed, you will do well. But I know you will do far better than that.
I fondly remember the time we were riding along in the car and I told you that you had a wonderful life ahead, and you could be anything. You thought for a moment before replying, “I want to ride on the back of a garbage truck, standing up, holding on.” I pray that you do NOT pursue that goal. In fact, one thing I would ask is that you avoid the mistake of aiming too low in life. I would ask that you “shoot for the moon” in your life goals. I believe that there is little you cannot achieve if you apply yourself to the task.
One day, I hope you will meet a fine young man, marry, and have children. I hope that I can be there to meet my grandchildren. But if not, I am comforted by the fact that you will be as wonderful a mother as you’ve been a daughter.
I hope you will always:
- Love God and keep him first in your life.
- Try to give more than you get from life.
- Know that the best in life is yet to come.
- Forgive those who need forgiveness, and ask the same of those whom you hurt.
- Be faithful to your spouse, and put him and your children second in your life only to God.
- Continue to be the person you are today.
- Read this letter once each year.
On our recent Daddy-Daughter scuba diving trip, you made friends with some of the other women divers on the boat. Though I had planned to dive along with you on your second ever night dive, I sensed you might enjoy it more without me. So though I never mentioned it, I opted out to let you spread your wings, as you must. During your first real dive without me, it finally hit me that you were no longer my precious little girl. You have metamorphosed into a beautiful young woman.
I cannot recall having cried many times in my life as an adult, maybe five. But as I stood on the darkened bow of the boat that night while you were diving, the tears flowed freely. It really wasn’t about the dive, but rather about how it symbolized the inevitability of change.
It would be nice if it were possible for you to always be my little girl, though it would be selfish of me to really want this. Not just for your sake, but for a world that will be a far better place because you live in it. And so, I must grant you your freedom.
One thing you must remember: I will always love you. No matter what you do, no matter where you are, and even when the last breath has left my body, I will still love you as certain as the sun rising tomorrow. And about the tear-thing, after writing this letter I think we’re up to seven.
I wish you happiness. I wish you all that God intended for you. I wish you all that life has to offer. But most of all, I wish you love.
Your father always
Disclaimer: Frank Wilem is an author, speaker, and all around funny and entertaining guy. On this blog, his stories are based on his real life experiences, often with a satirical twist.
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