Of all the phrases that have been directed toward me during my lifetime (“We have a deal“, “It’s a girl!”, “You are cancer free!“, “It’s a boyl!”, “You’re starting today’s game“, “It’s another girl!“, “You flushed what down the toilet?”) perhaps no other phrase has consistently touched me (except for “I do” or “I love you“) than the one I heard last night, “Hold me Daddy“.
Hold me daddy. As the old saying goes, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that, I would be a rich man.
Last night I did not actually hear those words. Rather I felt them resound in my soul.
I dropped my oldest daughter off at college yesterday. She is a freshman, starting her first year…away from home. What on earth was I thinking? Can she really be ready to face the world as an adult? Without her dad? Or is it that I am not quite ready to face the world without her?
As I hugged her one last time to say goodnight, a flash of images raced through my mind: lifting her as a crying infant out of her crib when it was time to nurse; pulling her two year old body up onto the sofa so she could lay on my chest in the early morning after waking; grasping her hands to dance around the room, a princess in her imaginary castle; hoisting her up on my shoulders to carry her the rest of the way through the zoo; holding her hand to lead her across a crowded parking lot; stretching out my arms to catch her as she jumped off the side of the pool and into the water for the very first time; grabbing one handle bar and sprinting (huffing and puffing) alongside her as she learned to peddle a bicycle without training wheels; grabbing her little fingers and providing balance as she took her first steps; placing her hands at the 10 and 5 positions on the steering wheel as she figured out how to become independently mobile for a second time…then last night, helping her push open her dormitory door as she entered a whole new world.
As a father, I have spent the past 18 years – some 6,700 days – holding her hand, pulling her up, helping her balance, lifting her, guiding her, protecting her, comforting her – all very much a hands-on approach. And then, just like that, one day – yesterday – she was gone.
The proverbial freight train had slammed into me with all its force. For months I had seen it coming; bearing down on me from way down the tracks. The collision was inevitable. No doubt it would hit me, the only thing in question was just how hard. I have learned the answer: much harder than I imagined. No matter how I prepared for impact, it wasn’t enough.
My daughter is an amazing person; straight-A student, state track champion, salutatorian, children’s hospital volunteer - all things she achieved that make her mom and dad feel quite humbled. Yet she is not defined by these honors and platitudes. Rather, she is a mature adult… (gulp!)…one who lives by conviction, makes great decisions, and who loves, gives, and gives her all. And those are the things that make me so very proud of her. She really is one of the finest people I know. And I know there is an amazing destiny in the works for her that will be unbelievably exciting and fulfilling…
…I just won’t be there to catch her, guide her, balance her or hold her as she navigates this part of the journey.
And that’s where the old conflict of interest rears its head – wanting her to grow into all that is purposed for her, yet still wanting to be there to witness every step along the way.
Sheesh. Somebody please hold me!
It practically ripped the heart right out of my chest to say goodbye last night, yet I recognized that this is the next step in this mysterious grand plan that is set for her life – no, each of our lives. For my daughter, it is a step into a new season, into the next stage in pursuing her destiny. For me, it is another step, gut-wrenching as it may be, in learning not to hold on, but to let go.
I never knew that letting go would be so difficult.
There is a quote I love, have tried to live by in fact: “Greater love has no man that this: that he lays down his life for a friend.”
It tells us that the greatest rewards in life come not through personal gain, rather through personal sacrifice; laying down our lives, our desires, our selfish ambition, so that others might benefit. There is no greater love.
This is the essence of parenting. And it is radical. It is also the essence of true relationships of every kind. The fundamental core of loving is giving of yourself. If we truly want to love, and demonstrate that love, it means selfless giving, laying down our own desires, putting others before you…and knowing when to hold on and when to let go.
This is radical. It flies in the face of our self-centered and self-seeking nature. Yet it is also where true fulfillment, meaning and real living is found.
In the same way that I once let go of those little fingers and watched her toddle across the room, in the same way I let her slide through my arms and splash into the water of the pool, in the same way I released the handlebar, and in the same way I stepped out of the car’s passenger seat, I am letting go and letting her head down the path toward her destiny - bumps, bruises, scrapes and all that may come.
And so I see now, that the purpose of those moments racing through my mind last night was not to moisten my keyboard, but to remind me that this is all about letting go, about laying it all down.
I recalled the day after my daughter was born. As the nurses handed her to us and waved while we left the hospital, my wife and I turned to each other and said, “What in the world are they doing letting us take this baby home? Don’t they know we have no idea what we are doing?”
With similar angst from that day 18 years ago, I turned to leave my daughter’s dorm room last night, knowing that once in crossing that threshold the real umbilical cord would be cut, and that I was walking away from my baby girl and into a present and future that would be immediately radically altered.
As I took those agonizing steps away, the emotional blur of memories, the rush of feelings, and the flood of tears was suddenly jolted to a halt when I heard those familiar words once again.
Hold me daddy!
I looked down to see my 5 year old daughter, arms outstretched toward me. As I leaned over to pick her up and hoist her up into my arms, I realized that I am indeed already a very rich man.
My sincere hope is that you can say that too.
ps. would love to read your comments!