My daughter is sitting in our favorite coffee shop in her college town, legs crossed, steam curling from her cup of tea. The first thing I notice is her posture. I do not remember her having such perfect posture. It’s funny the things you notice when you haven’t seen someone for a while.
I am visiting for the weekend and we meet like old friends. We talk about her mother, my wife, and her brother, my son. We rank our favorite binge-worthy shows, and share lines from Amy Poehler, agreeing that she is that funny. She tells me about the mind-numbing books she must read for class, and when she will be home next.
I watch her with delight, this growing up girl who has moved 1,000 miles from home to learn. She lives in her own apartment with her own car, paying her own bills and dreaming her own dreams. I realize, as I drink this in, that it was her leaving that allowed me to enjoy moments like this, to see her as her own person, not as an extension of me or us.
Truth is, I know her better now than I did when she lived in our house and I saw her daily comings and goings. When children live at home we spend time together, but we rarely have the chance to get to know each other without distractions or obligations tugging at our frayed attention.
When the kids were growing up (the boy is three years younger) my wife and I would divide to conquer. I drove to lacrosse, my wife to field hockey. My son and I would hit the gym, they both loved to bake.
Too often in families, we each become the center of our own attention, worrying the same way over different things. It is hard to find a pipeline in the surf where we can enjoy peace amid the swirl. To be honest, I am not sure we look that hard.
But when my daughter went to college, an opportunity found me. My wife and I would often visit separately since one of us needed to be home. Sometimes I would luck out and have business in the area, allowing me to stop in for an extra few days.
I honestly do not know if my daughter and I had ever spent time, just the two of us, talking with no agenda. If we did, I am certain I had points I wanted to make about school, sports, and friends, or I shared some anecdote from my past to illustrate a life lesson. (I do that, I know.)
But it struck me on that day, with this engaging young lady sitting across from me sharing her experiences and opinions, that I was less interested in giving advice or trying to shape her view of events, and more time listening and sharing. I relinquished my director’s role and joined the cast.
When I did, I became more than her father, I was someone with whom she could safely share her life, and vice versa. She had weeks of thoughts stored up to talk about, plans to make, and questions about family. Mainly about the dog. She really missed the dog.
I felt free to talk about my life and work and what I really wanted to do some day. During these moments, I came to understand that my presence was a comfort to her, as hers was to me. I was her connection to home, and even away at school, her heart was still home.
Three or four times a year for the last three years, we have had visits like this. We eat breakfast before she goes to class, then we meet for tea in the afternoon. We relax at the hotel where I am staying and watch TV, or we work in the lobby, both connected to the wireless, but also, silently, to each other.
Once, we drove up north along the lake and spontaneously stopped to take in all that blue water—blue to the horizon and beyond. We took a few pictures to send to my wife. Then I stepped back and watched her look into the distance, over that vast expanse, her gaze clear.
We kept on till we found a little town and a main drag where we each got tea. We walked it to a bench in front of the red brick courthouse and sat to drink it in the waning afternoon light.
For just a moment time fell away, and in brief silence I realized I had let something go, and had gained much more back.
By Bill Stump