Brooke is my second of three daughters. She’s nearly 12 years old. She was born on a snowy December morning. I was in the delivery room when she took her first breath of life. Her tiny feet pedaled circles in the air as she cried. She’s been moving ever since. I can barely keep up with her now.
She calls me her “best buddy.” I help her with her homework. She helps me tend the vegetable garden. I give her advice on her basketball practice. She clips my red Mr. Lincoln roses as they bloom in June. They fill a milk-white vase on the fireplace mantle. I find them waiting for me when I arrive home from work. “I picked them just for you, Dad,” she says proudly.
Spring is her favorite season. We gather kites and spools of string and make our way to Mill Creek Park in the early evening hours. My youngest daughter follows. She’s 81‚Ñ2. She serves as Brooke’s shadow. Her name is Bridget. She likes to call me “David,” especially when she’s cross with me. I suspect it makes her feel older to address me by name. She’s in such a hurry to grow up.
We position ourselves in an open grass field. Bridget’s kite is first to catch the wind. Her spool of string hums as it unwinds. She delights in her efforts. Brooke spies a group of school friends across the way. “Can, I go see them, Dad? Please?” she asks. She’s bored already. Only last year she couldn’t wait to be here with me. We’d spend the whole evening together, and that was always enough for her. “Just be careful,” I answer. In a second she’s gone from me. I track her progress across the field. When she was small and unsure she’d always look back whenever she left my side. This time she didn’t.
Forever is a long time
I hear Bridget call to me. The kite string has tangled on her coat sleeve. I kneel down to free it. “You’ll never leave me will you Bridget?” I ask. Her brow furrows with puzzlement, as if I have suggested the impossible. “Oh, no”, she assures me, “I’m gonna stay with you forever, Dad.” I draw her close. I wish I could believe her words, but I know better. For someday soon another spring time will come. The purple heather will flower once more and dance in a cool breeze along the hillside. The scent of lilac will touch the air. And greater horizons will call to her, tugging as persistent as the wind on the end of her kite string, until at last that bond of father and daughter becomes untethered, and she too flies free to follow her own dreams.
A burst of wind tumbles across the field. “Daddy, the kite; get the kite!” Bridget shouts with urgency. “I’ve got it honey”, I answer. I stand to steady the small triangular shape spinning in the sky. In the distance I see my Brooke running in laughter with a boy from school, her kite trailing behind them. She’s learning to do without me. She’s beginning to find her own way now. That snowy December morning when Brooke first entered my life seems somehow far away.
I’ll stand in this field watching my two daughters till the last rays of golden sunlight paint the evening sky no more. For I know these days are surely numbered.
Fatherhood passes in the blink of an eye. It brings bedtime stories, and pictures drawn in colored crayon with words “I Love You Dad” printed across the top. It brings music lessons, teacher conferences, and days of self-doubt and worry. And then, one evening, we fathers arrive home from work to an unfamiliar silence, and we are reminded of our children’s absence. Like flowering blossoms our children grow and drift away.
In quiet dreams we ramble down worn paths of youthful fatherhood, searching for lasting relics of such precious days. In morning’s light, we awake to discover an empty vase resting upon the fireplace mantle. We miss our distant days of spring. And in our hearts, we fathers find that we miss our little flowers most of all.
X David Bobovnyik is a lawyer who lives in Youngstown and writes from time to time about growing up in the city and watching others grow up or grow old here.