May 10, 2016

An Open Letter to My Daughter on Her 21st Birthday.


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Sometimes you just know. And what I knew is that you would be special.

So I felt compelled to come up with a unique name for you, a new arrangement of letters the world had never heard. And I did. I can still recall sitting at a red light in a little Midwestern town on a gray day when your name first popped into my head and tumbled out of my mouth. “Bari” I spoke, it was perfect.

I was a young man then. And I was sure of everything, especially how to parent. It would be easy I thought.

Discipline hard and love harder.

Avoid the mistakes of my parents. Simple.

I hold so many beautiful memories from your childhood. Too many days to count were spent on the lake, laughing and splashing and making memories.

We have our special places too. The dam comes to mind first as I hope it does for you. I spent countless hours swimming there as a child and then I had the privilege of introducing you to its magic. Remember how we called it the “darn”, in a silly effort to avoid an accidental curse? I still chuckle at our old saying, “You can swim at the darn dam, but not the damn darn.”

There are days now when I sit and allow memories to drift through my mind like summer clouds over our dam. Images of you holding your little kittens in your little arms, playing school with the overhead projector I brought from school for the weekend, teaching you to ride your new bike, watching Barney and Big Comfy Couch together, hiking in Hawaii, camping in a tent full of water, all of these fill my heart.

Remember our five-day backcountry hike? Five days in the wilderness, just the two of us. I cherish every minute of it. Even the ascent up the giant hill on day five.

I remember how absolutely excited you were to begin school, and how sad you were after your first day of kindergarten. I asked what was wrong and you said through tears, “I hate my name.” I asked why. You said, “Because it’s a food and the kids called me blueberry and strawberry and blackberry.” It broke my heart. And we read “Chrysanthemum” by Kevin Henkes, and regained our strength together.

We have our dark skies too, the storm clouds have gathered from time to time. I cringe at the times I was too harsh with you. The times I caused you to cry bring me deep regret. Believe me, I wish I could go back and talk a little sense to the younger me. I would tell him to ease up a bit, be patient, to be gentle. I would tell him to grab you and hug you in the midst of a fight. I would make him show empathy when your cat died. I would make him call your teacher when she said you were terrible at cutting with a scissors.

Today, you are more precious than ever. I relish every conversation we have. When you confide in me I am honored. When you ask me for advice I am humbled. When you tell me your stories, I am on the edge of my seat.

Do you remember the night we ordered delivery pizza when you were twelve? It was from our favorite pizza place and it changed things. A plain map of Italy was printed on the cover of the box. And there on the east coast of the boot country, down by the heel, in big bold letters was the city of Bari. Your name! Now, here it was, a major Italian city, probably there for thousands of years.

Life is like your name. It is precious and worth fighting to protect. We proceed despite our misconceptions and adjust when they are revealed. Life will work hard to remove the shine from what matters most, it becomes our duty to protect against its corrosive tendencies.

Love and kindness and gentleness are worth the effort.

Embrace their beauty at the expense of dropping their antithesis; hate and selfishness and bitterness.

Twenty-one years of us, father and daughter, worth the effort.

And I am prouder than ever to call you my Bari.





Author: John Geers

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Steven Van Loy/Unsplash 

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