I was at work and about to go into an important meeting when my phone alerted me that I had a voice mail. It was my daughter’s summer day camp, informing me Natalie had a wardrobe malfunction.
“Your daughter wore white leggings today,” the recording told me. “And she’s embarrassed that that her underwear’s showing through. Could you bring over another pair of pants or shorts? Thank you.”
“Oh, for crying out loud,” I muttered. I toyed with asking my wife to handle it but, since both my job and the camp are close to my office, why risk a fight? So, I called the person I was meeting and told him I’d be twenty minutes late. Then I called the camp.
“What color top is Natalie wearing?” I asked. Color coordination is important.
“A grey tee-shirt with red hearts on it.”
After driving home, I walked into my daughter’s room and surveyed the clothing choices available to me. Now that Natalie is nine and still unemployed, my wife and I decided it was high time she started earning her keep and tasked her with putting her laundry away. As you can imagine, the state of her dresser was suboptimal.
“Are these pants or a pajama bottoms?” I asked, befuddledly holding up a pair of black number with an elastic band. Truth be told, I’ve never bought my daughter a single stitch of clothing in all her time on earth. That’s what grandparents are for, and believe me, they keep her well supplied. Finally, I settled on a camouflage colored pair of shorts and a leopard patterned pair of pants. Then, when I arrived at the camp, I identified myself and asked them to fetch Natalie. “I brought two things,” I said. ‘I hope they’ll do.”
“You’re a girl dad!” a female counselor crowed. “You knew to match her top. And bring two choices!”
“When it comes to fashion,” I said. “Always present a lady with options.”
“She’ll be right along.”
While I waited, one the male counselors who knows Natalie very well said to me, “My daughter’s only eight months old. I don’t have to deal with this stuff yet.”
“Until today,” I said. “Neither did I. But womanhood is a learning curve.”
Natalie appeared wearing a borrowed sweatshirt covering her backside but, to my mind, her condition wasn’t too bad – more a minor case of panty lines than anything else – but I knew kids are apt to tease. Besides, when my daughter’s older, she’ll know to make clothing choices to avoid these situations in the future.
“Here you go honey, I said. “Try the shorts on first. It’s hot out.”
After changing, Natalie, emerged from the bathroom. “These shorts are too big,” she said.
Shaking my head, I wondered why clothes my daughter will “grow into” were in her dresser. I’ll never understand how my wife thinks. Ever.
“Try these then,” said, handing her the pants.
A few minutes later, Natalie came out wearing her less than opaque pants. “All good?” I asked.
“Yes. Thanks Daddy.” If she was upset over her wardrobe faux pas, she didn’t show it. Then she handed me her problematic leggings like I was Jeeves, the butler.
“No,” I said. “Put them in your backpack, dear.”
“Okay,” Natalie said, happily toddling off without casting a look back. No hug. No kiss. No nothing.
“Bye sweetheart,” I called after her. “I’ll pick you up at five.”
Instead of being miffed at Natalie’s lack of affection, I was proud of her. She was firmly in her element, and when you think about it, I was sort of intruding into her space. Day camp is her domain of sun and fun, as well as whispers, secrets, and laughs shared with her girlish peers. Every kid needs a place of their own and away from their parents. Standing in the hallway, I knew I stood out in this place like a cockroach in a Crème Brule.
There will come a point when Natalie asks me to drop her off three blocks from school lest her chums catch an embarrassing glimpse of her broken down and very uncool father. That’ll probably sting a bit, but I know that’ll be part of her quest to forge her own identity, to differentiate herself from parents who have, for now, been her gatekeepers to the entire world. But I also knew that I’d get phone calls like this in the future and be forced to drop everything to ride to her rescue. Today it was a pair of pants. Tomorrow it’ll be problem in school, a gal pal who dissed her, or a boy who broke her heart. There will always be a role for “Daddy” until, one day, Natalie will be able to stand on her own. Judging from her already formidable personality, that’ll probably be sooner than later.
Driving back to my office, I thought about my own parents. In a very real sense, the tables have turned, and my brother and I are now the ones riding to their rescue. That’s taken some getting used to but, since we grew up watching my folks take care of their parents, we know it’s part of the package, part of the deal. But then it hit me. My parents had me when they were twenty-five. I had Natalie at forty-five. When she’s fifty-five like me, the odds are good I’ll have already gone down for the dirt nap. Is that good or bad?
When I’m eighty, Natalie will be a youthful thirty-five. So, if I follow my parent’s trajectory, she’ll be shopping for nursing homes a full twenty-years before I had to. That’ll probably suck, but there’s always an upside to everything. Many middle aged people are part of the “sandwich generation” – caring for children and elderly parents at the same time. But if I’m dead when Natalie’s the age I am now, possibly dealing with in-laws, planning for retirement, or running around to help her own kids, she won’t have to worry about me anymore! So, instead of being the meat between two slices, she’d be more of an open faced sandwich? Nah. Judging from the longevity gene in my wife’s family, Natalie’s mom will probably live to a hundred. I hope my daughter’s future husband gets along with his mother-in-law. Pass the mustard.
Laughing to myself, I cast my morose musings aside and remembered something Alan Watts once said. “There is no such thing as to tomorrow. There never will be because time is always now. That’s one of the things we discover when we stop talking to ourselves and stop thinking. We find there is only present, only an eternal now.” So why am I worrying about a future I cannot control or foresee? Even Jesus was on Watt’s trippy wavelength. “Therefore, do not be anxious for tomorrow,” he preached, “Because tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Man, he wasn’t kidding. So, heading towards my meeting, I just decided to live in the now.
And right now, I’m a girl dad.