I don’t mind waiting outside with my seventeen-month-old, Vivian, while my wife runs into a department store to find a sun hat. I enjoy watching Vivian explore even in a concrete parking lot. What she is attracted to most is not the open flat space where she can run fast and free, it’s the uneven steps, open cracks and steep inclines. She seeks out the most challenging places to walk or climb then proceeds to take on the challenge. Invariably, my reaction to the places Vivian approaches is fear. The fears are quelled quickly, however, when she turns to me, hand held out, her big brown eyes looking at me expectantly. Ever since she was walking I’ve been close enough to ensure her safety but remained far enough to let her fail. The elation and pride in her expression when she’s conquered a challenge, especially after failing, further shuns the notion that I should’ve helped her in the first place. Vivian’s graduated from summiting the sofa, scaling the staircase and breaking out of the bed and is ready for a new challenge. Once she’s overcome a challenge her hand no longer reaches for mine. I’m stung at the realization that Vivian no longer needs her dad. A selfish thought to be sure, but there’s no denying the bittersweet irony that if I’ve done my job well she’ll no longer need me.
Today in the department store parking lot Vivian found a wide, slippery concrete slope, seemingly impossible for her to negotiate alone. She turned to me, hand out, a trusting smile. A memory came back to me. Weeks earlier when at dinner at an outdoor restaurant, Vivian scaled down the side of a platform almost as high as she was without any help. She followed the steps my wife and I had taught her to perfection and I congratulated her and half-jokingly whispered: “I’m proud and sad you might not need your dad much longer.” An elderly man sitting within earshot smiled and looked at me.
“She’ll always need you, you just have to be there.” A woman who sat across from the man, who I assumed to be his daughter, seconded his smile as they watched me follow Vivian to her next endeavour, a rickety, curved wooden bridge. The old man’s words echoed in my ears as I helped her over the bridge and once more over the slippery, concrete slope. As soon as I helped her over that slope her hand let go of mine and Vivian, turned around, and conquered it herself. Her celebration was to look at me with proud eyes and a baby tooth-filled smile. I’ve read about some great relationships between fathers and daughters found that common among them was that daughters were made to feel confident, encouraged, empowered. They were taught not to endure their struggles but to revere them, appreciate them.
I no longer worry about Vivan not needing her dad. I’ll happily, joyfully, step up when she needs me. I just have to be there.