A Maelstrom of Mistakes

It was twenty years ago today that my daughter was born. How does that make me feel? I’m not sure. I think I might be feeling old.

In 1995, I was twenty-seven and scared to death of becoming a father. She was born at 1:30 in the morning. I heard her cry, cut the cord and saw her properly as she lay on my ex-wife’s chest. I fell in love instantly. I remember holding her in my arms and thinking to myself, “You are my little girl. Please don’t drop her. She’s so little. Please don’t drop her.” The next morning, I took both mother and daughter to (at the time) a happy home.

In 2000, I was thirty-two and finally divorced. My daughter was five and I needed to be a part of her life. I was desperate to keep a relationship with her after the divorce and since she was always the one true bright spot that came out of my first marriage, I focused on what I knew. I became “Fun Dad.” She spent most weekends with me and that time was focused on doing something together—eating popcorn at the movies, making cookies, watching new TV shows, playing at the park, visiting zoos.

In 2006, I was thirty-eight and my daughter was eleven. My grandmother passed away and I cried in front of my daughter for the first time.

In 2013, she turned eighteen, graduated high school and moved in with me, my fiancé-to-be and her two daughters. I was outnumbered and outgunned. I learned just how much she didn’t know about life and I learned how much being “Fun Dad” affected my parental role with her. She had willfully ignored a large chunk of the world around her because it didn’t conform to her specifications. Instead of adjusting, she retreated. She created work-arounds. I had been too busy being “Fun Dad” to see where she was deficient and if I did, I ignored it.

Today, she loves Harry Potter, Supernatural, Sherlock, and Doctor Who. She writes music on her piano, reads every dystopian YA novel and listens to groups like The Piano Guys and Pentatonic. She’s every geeky boy’s dream. She’s off to Illinois State in the fall to seriously work on her dream of becoming a grade school teacher. Right now she’s buried under financial aid forms and scholarship essays. She still has a semester at Parkland College to finish and a summer ahead to learn a million things she needs before going off to live on her own. She’s figuring out where she’s living, figuring out her classes, figuring out where she might get a job, and so much more.

It’s early in 2015, I’m going to turn forty-seven in several months and I’m not at all ready to hand my daughter off to the cruel, cruel world. When I was twenty, I was worried about pledging Sigma Pi Literary Society, my next season of Illinois College Cross Country and where the next party was. Twenty-seven years removed from those concerns, I worry about the damn pain in my knee, figuring out new health insurance, what’s for dinner and finding five minutes alone to kiss my wife. Most importantly, I worry about my daughter.

It’s my prerogative as her father to worry. It is entirely likely that I will worry about her forever. However, a large reason I worry is that I’ve come to the earth-shattering conclusion that I haven’t prepared her at all. I haven’t taught her enough about the real world and I’m scared to death she’s going to walk into a maelstrom of mistakes.

My favorite Star Trek movie is The Wrath of Khan. The movie is about opening old wounds, past decisions that haunt you today and birthdays. I was 14 when it came out and I really had no concept of these themes then, but I’m painfully aware now. It’s generally assumed that Kirk’s birthday being celebrated in the film is his 49th. I’m just a few years away from that milestone and I think it scares me. More to the point, as I think about my own “old wounds” and past decisions I see where my past has finally caught up with me.

It’s my daughter.

She’s not a mistake. Not at all. However, my wife and I only have a few months to teach her the lessons she probably should have learned years ago. Since she’s moved in I’ve said countless times, “I don’t know what she doesn’t know.” That is a lie. I’m afraid, she knows nothing of the real world and she will be torn apart by the oncoming storm. So, I have to prepare her.

My wife and I have to start from scratch. Take inventory of what we positively know she understands and draw a line to where she needs to be. We don’t have the luxury of being able to bide our time and let her learn on her own. There’s going to be so many things she’s going to have to learn on her own, but the basics we have to make sure she understands.

It’s just nine short months until she starts her new adventure. She’s been on this earth two decades and she has never went to the store to buy groceries for a month, never went to sleep alone in her own apartment, never walked alone at night by herself in a strange town.

The reality storm is going to hit her. I only hope she’s strong enough to survive.