I tried my best you know; being stoic. It just doesn’t work for me though, no matter how hard I try. If it’s not welling up in my eyes, it’s firmly lodged in my throat making it hard for me to get anything out without a quiver. You know; you’ve seen it. Whether it’s you bounding out on stage in your first ballet, your teeny little tutu fluttering, or as you walked across the stage to receive your scholarships, I’m sure you saw it in my eyes. I know sometimes it embarrasses you, so I try to keep it hidden. Well, at least under control. Usually with little success. The competing emotions make it hard to find a solution to keep it in check. Part pride; part sadness; sheer joy; muted concern. I can’t nail it down. If you can’t name it, you can’t fix it. It’s all part of the dad thing I guess. Let’s face it, you’ll never stop touching my heart until my heart decides to stop on its own.

Dads never let go.....

Dads never let go…..

I know I caught a little of it in your eyes too. As we decided where to hang your tapestry, your smile was interrupted briefly, very briefly, possibly only noticeable by those who study your face as constantly as I do. A small glitch, as if the signal had frozen and the feed hadn’t caught up. And just like that, it was gone, replaced by the boundless confidence and enthusiasm that bubbles from your personality.  We had quite a while to prepare for this day, you and I. From the hours we spent in the car canvasing different campuses, to the summer-long process of mom filling her checklist of the things you’ll need, we always knew we’d be packing the car full of your new life and disgorging it into some cramped, institutionally designed room where you’ll start the next chapter that takes you so far from us.  But it’s not just the distance. It’s the time; that vacant spot you’ll leave in our daily existence, the dammed inability for me to determine that you’re okay, that you don’t need anything, that dad can’t be there; even though it’s what I struggled to prepare you for your whole life. I guess I should have prepared myself. I was too busy denying it would ever come, as if I could put it off just by ignoring it and pushing it into the same dark corner of my mind where I hide the rest of my fears and disappointments.

But I can’t let my life be a series of events that I see in the rear view mirror of my past. I’ll always look back and see you; the first step, the first words, the start of school, the first date. It’s all there, letting me see where we came from as we map out where we go next, as if life always cooperates and things go as we plan. No, the rear view mirror only serves to remind me of how utterly fantastic and randomly wonderful my life has truly been. Every day, every event in that day made that particular day “the greatest day in my life.” Marrying your mom; greatest day of my life. The day you were born; greatest day in my life. Sharing a quiet paddle on the lake, the wildlife observing us as we awed at the majesty of it all; greatest day of my life. Every day with you has been just that; the greatest day of my life.

Perspective. I need perspective. Every little memory that fades in the rear view as I drive further down the road of my mortality was once an exciting, distant location looming larger in the windshield as it approached. Some of life’s little trips were meticulously planned; many were not. But I was always at the wheel, always in control, with the exception of the radio of course. Now I’m the passenger, maybe even sitting in the back as you steer toward your own destiny, trips and events planned and unplanned, always and forever heading forward in the direction which you have set for yourself, making memories that you’ll revisit one day in the rear view mirror of your own mind. And who knows, maybe you’ll find you get the same sharp, shortness of breath, the same hitch in your throat as you look forward toward destinations uncertain, peeking back into the memories that have set you on the journey which you embrace with full abandon today. And I’ll learn that going along for the ride now means that the greatest days of my life, from this point forward, will be those that you share with me, on a journey of your choosing, with days that will forever become “the greatest day” of your life.  I know you’ll have many; I know you deserve them. I cannot tell you just how proud I am. I like to think I have a way with words; there is however, no way to tell you just how happy I am for you.

So I turn the car away from the campus, the last images of your dorm peeking from the trees and obscured by the buildings that surround it. Maybe it was better that we said our good-byes quickly. Just the same, I peeked back in the rear view mirror, hoping against hope to get one last glimpse; maybe you were running after the car, maybe I should stop just to be sure you weren’t trying to follow me. No; you weren’t following. You’re on your own journey now, one that breaks my heart when I realize it’ll take you away from me and I’ll have to share you with a cold, uncaring, difficult world. But’s that’s only a dad’s perspective. Actually, you’re running headlong into a wonderful future, a fantastic journey that leads who knows where, to places I’ve only dreamed of; without fear, without hesitation, with the confidence and enthusiasm to achieve your dreams and your goals, ticking off one “greatest day” after another.  I know this because that’s the way we raised you. I can still see it in the mirror of my soul.

As I ponder how time will now move forward, I catch a glimpse of your sister’s face. She’s searching her own mirror, thinking of all the giggles you’ve shared, the things you’ve seen, done and accomplished together, sisters by birth, best friends by the tug of your hearts. And just as with the expression on your face in the dorm, whatever cloud darkened her face drifts away and instantly she’s back to the wide grin that she often wears.  She’ll miss you too, but soon she’ll have to face the windshield of her life and search into the distance for the journey that will take her from us as well. But this time, I’ll be prepared.

I plan to rip the rear view mirror from the car.

Lesson learned…..