On Saturday I had the privilege of being alongside a beautiful young woman at a significant and well-attended event not very far from my home. Even more edifying was the fact that she seemed to be quite happy to be seen with me - and even to talk to me - despite the obvious difference in our ages.
She looked quite stunning in an elegant, classy dress which I had not seen her wear before - in fact I had never seen her in such a thing. She had been taking advantage of our recent local weather and was sporting a moderate tan, in contrast to other attendees at the public event, who were obviously lathered with false skin colour. She was, quite simply, beautiful - and in a classy, serene way.
It's been a very long time since I have been accompanied by a beautiful young woman (although I am on a daily basis to be seen alongside a beautiful mature woman who has been generous enough to allow me to share my life with her). On Saturday, for much of the time I wore a silly, even goofy smile and tried to not say too much in case I embarrassed my young lady. I'm very skilled at embarrassing her; if you hadn't already guessed, she is my daughter.
On Saturday I accompanied her to the beginning of her 'prom' afternoon and evening. To do so gave me much joy and intense pride. Her obvious beauty, you see, is more than skin deep - and I am proud to be her father for many more reasons than one.
She is my youngest child, and her schooling is coming to an end - in more ways than one. Just as the high school finishes the job it was tasked to do, so I am gently allowing the reins of parenthood to loosen, and the informal instruction and moments of unsolicited advice to lessen (but not cease altogether, as my experience with her older sibling has taught me). Saturday marked a milestone - soon to be followed by an official graduation ceremony - not just for her but also for me, the man who - throwing all common sense aside - would prefer to protect her (and her brother) from every sling and arrow that the world has to hurl.
Of course I know that I cannot - must not, do that. I know that the young folk must be free, that they must make mistakes on their own terms, and discover all the lessons of their lives without being shielded from them. My daughter is the last child to reach this point, and I'm suddenly forced to reflect upon that fact; I must accept that a phase of my own life is drifting towards a different one.
There is sadness, of course, in acknowledging that my children no longer have the same need or desire to hear my advice or my perspective on the world - but I remember being much the same at their ages. I was too busy to listen to the relatively sparse snippets of advice from my own parents. I was impatient to get out into the world and explore life and what it had to offer - and so, I find, are my children (despite the small difference in ages, they seem to be somewhat synchronized at last). That realization excites me - their enthusiasm for doing their own thing is slightly alarming (I suspect because it's so different from how it has always been) but deeply gratifying - after all, what other target can a parent have for their healthy child?
From the moment they were born, I have known that these moments would arrive. I have always known that I would one day have to acknowledge their independence, that I would have to take a deep breath and wish them bon voyage. Well, over the next year or so, the times will indeed be a-changin', although I am committed to being/providing a safety net - something that I never experienced as a young adult.
This weekend marks the beginning of a new phase of all our lives, and I've always found change to be positive, even if the first steps upon a new road can be challenging. The next phase should be fun.
On Saturday I allowed myself to notice and experience the instinctive joy of watching my daughter show the world that she is now a young woman. I allowed myself the simple joy of watching her feel good about herself, watching how the compliments from other people lifted her out of nervousness, and brought out her stunning smile. I became that dad: the one who wants to nudge passers-by and say "That's my daughter!", whether they want to know or not. Fortunately, I held myself in check and controlled such silly urges.
Having been as involved and engaged a father as I could possibly be, I have helped make wonderful, loving, kind young people. That is a fact, and it probably constitutes my greatest achievement. It feels good; it's life-affirming.
While I look on at my kids with a joy formed of the unconditional love that I hold for them, I think I might allow myself another luxury - that of some pride in a job done as well as I could/can do it. As the wheel keeps turning, I very much hope that I can, one day, be the kind of grandfather that I used to wish for when I was a child, and whom (my father) I was lucky enough to watch so obviously loving my children.
Yes, I think that this next bit WILL be fun...