I have loved you from the moment I met you. You were still wet from the birth canal, hair matted to your scalp, eyes squeezed shut. They dried you off, cut the cord, placed you in a bassinet under a warming light. I went over to you. My hand covered your torso.
And I loved you.
That was 17 years ago, 17 years that have moved as cheetahs move. The infant is a toddler, the toddler is a little girl, the little girl is an adolescent, the adolescent is you, a girl on the verge of womanhood, graduating high school - with honors! - this spring, going to college in the fall.
You are facing the future. I am facing the past, sitting here looking at old pictures of you and listening to songs whose lyrics make me sad.
There you are with a plastic pig snout from some restaurant strapped over your nose, looking up with crossed eyes. And the Temptations are singing about sunshine on a cloudy day. "My Girl."
There you are walking with your arms folded and your lips poked out, pouting because that bad old ground had the nerve to skin your knee. And Paul Simon is singing "there could never be a father who loved his daughter more than I love you."
There you are in your senior picture, your hair glossy and long, wearing a white cap and gown, facing the camera, smiling your confidence. Stevie Wonder is singing, "isn't she lovely?" And she is.
There's this other song that really gets me, though. It's called "I Wish I Could." A meditative keyboard and guitar frame the melody and Peabo Bryson sings of watching his little girl playing in the leaves, of kneeling by her side to say bedtime prayers, of snapping pictures, trying to "hold on to the memory before the whole things slips away." He sings:
"I wish I could save these moments and put 'em in a jar.
"I wish I could stop the world from turning, keep things just the way they are.
"I wish I could shelter you from everything not pure and sweet and good.
"I know I can't. I know I can't. But I wish I could."
Honey, you know your dad. Your dad doesn't cry unless there's a death in the family or a loss in the playoffs. But I swear, that song brings me too close for comfort every time. Every doggone time.
You know why? Well, in the last 17 years, I have used a Nerf gun to chase off the monsters under your bed, given you my shoulders as a throne from which to look down on the world, waited outside with other parents while you sat in the arena cheering some pop star who had stolen your heart away from me. I have endured your rolling eyes, your heavy sighs and your indifference (hated your indifference most of all).
But what comes now is harder than all that. Because what comes now is the beginning of goodbye.
Yes, I know. You're not going anywhere. You still live in that landfill down the hall you call a bedroom.
But see, I am losing my little girl. She is waving her last farewells to me here and now. And some woman is about to take her place. Giggly, excitable and gawky on high heels, but a woman, all the same.
There is much I want for this woman. I want success for her. I want adventure and travel, dancing and laughter, discovery and joy. I want challenges, but I want contentment, too, that peace that comes from knowing you are exactly where you are meant to be in life, doing exactly what you are meant to do. I want her to be happy.
You see, I haven't met her yet, but already, I love this woman.
And yet, I'd give anything to make her go away, to cast her back beyond the horizon. I would trade her without a second thought for just one more chance to take out a Nerf gun and slay any monsters that dare trouble my little girl.
Oh, I know I can't. But I wish I could.