This morning my daughter climbed into my bed and prodded my shoulder. I was already awake but pretended to sleep, adding an exaggerated snore for emphasis,
“Wake up time, Daddy,” Natalie said. “Wake up time.” I snored again and was rewarded with a giggle.
Little fingers danced on my face and then got hold of my beard and gave it a tug. “Wake up!” Natalie said, again. When I opened my eyes my daughter’s face was inches from mine, her eyes filled with adoration and mouth graced into an angelic smile. Not a bad alarm clock. Not bad at all.
“It’s daytime! I have to go to school! ”
Downstairs I could hear my wife rattling around the kitchen packing Natalie’s lunch for the day. Annie takes our daughter to school and I pick her up – but I know the morning routine Is the hardest. No matter how involved a father is, mothers always end up doing more of the work.
“Time for breakfast,” I said, carrying Natalie out of bed. “What do you want? Waffle with peanut butter? Some apples?”
In the kitchen I popped a waffle into the toaster, thinly sliced up and apple and then artfully fanned the slices onto a plate. When the waffle popped up I slathered it with peanut butter, cut it in half and then gave it to Natalie with a glass of milk. “How nice!” Natalie said. If there’s one thing I learned in the restaurant business it’s that presentation is important.
As I watched Natalie eat, however, I felt a pang of sadness. She will turn five next month and this sweet and innocent time of beard pulling and giggles won’t last forever. My daughter’s already started kicking me out of the bathroom. But that is the way of the world.
Shaking the sadness away, I threw a load of towels into the washing machine, gave my old dog his meds, refilled the water and food bowls and then started emptying the dishwasher – my usual morning chores. As I started putting the dishes into the cupboard, a scene from a British TV show called Fleabag popped into my brain.
During the episode, the female protagonist is on a woman’s retreat when she runs into a man she once had an unpleasant encounter with at a men’s retreat next door. The man had been sexually inappropriate at work and his job sent him to this workshop as a condition of staying employed. Both the man and the woman are very damaged people trying heal themselves and they shared a cigarette in an awkward truce. And as the man says what he wants out of life he said something moving and remarkable.
“I want to take clean cups, out of the dishwasher, and put them in the cupboard. at home. And the next morning I want to watch my wife drink from them. And I want to make her feel good.”
Stacking cups and the saucers, I relished the sound of clinking porcelain and how the morning light sparkled off the clean plates waiting in the dishwasher. Then I fixed Annie and myself a cup of coffee and walked into the dining room. Annie was looking at something on her phone and my daughter was babbling softly to herself. As my wife thanked me for the coffee I realized she looked beautiful and my daughter looked happy. Watching them as I sipped from my clean cup, I realized that if this moment was the summit of my life, it would be enough.
Breakfast finished, I kissed my wife, hugged my daughter and waved to them as they climbed into our minivan and drove away. Then I went back into the kitchen, put the breakfast plates into the dishwasher, cleaned the counters, poured some more coffee and then sat on the couch. In the silence I listened to the clock tick, my old dog drinking from his bowl and the wind blowing softly outside. That’s when happiness stole into the room and caught me by surprise.
Fame and fortune, power and glory, triumph and success all have their place – but they pale in comparison to the sweetness of a daughter’s smile, a wife’s kiss and clean cups in the cupboard.