Kids get older; dads never change
I used to be the father of a little girl, but I guess as of today I am the father of a young woman. My daughter, Sarah, turns 18 today.
She would kill me if she knew I was writing about her. So nobody tell her. It will be our secret.
The fact is, I've shamelessly used this space to document her life. I've cleverly wedged every cute little thing she's said and shoehorned all the amusing and embarrassing incidents of her childhood into various columns. It's sort of been an 18-year-long verbal slide show that I've made readers suffer through.
Eventually, when she reached the age of cognition, she realized what I was doing and told me to knock it off.
But I can't. When I'm old and feeble, dribbling into my drool bucket and slashing at people from my bed with a cane, I intend to break out all of the columns I have written about Sarah and have my day nurse shout them into my ear trumpet, by cracky.
I remember, for instance, the expression on her face the first time she smelled a plumeria blossom. It was just last week. No, just kidding. (You can now see why she hates this.) It was actually when she was no taller than a fire hydrant or a medium-size German shepherd, and the look as she got a whiff of the flower, full of joy, surprise and wonder, was like, "Hey, maybe this life stuff isn't going to be so bad after all."
She did all the mandatory cute little things children are expected to do. I can recall with hardly any lasting embarrassment the time she stuck a cotton ball in my mug of beer when the family was having lunch at one of those outdoor restaurants in Lahaina.
Sarah never took to carrying a blanket for comfort as a toddler. Instead, she liked to grasp a cotton ball, which she called a "bunka ball," in her tiny fingers and keep it close to her cheek. It soothed her and gave her peace. That was great for my wife and me because we didn't have to lug a particular blankee or scruffy stuffed animal all over the place whenever we went out. We always had a supply of fresh cotton balls handy to keep her happy.
Now picture this: We're sitting there at this lovely oceanside restaurant waiting on our lunch. I'm having a frosty beer, looking out at the water.
For some reason, Sarah decided to deposit her bunka ball in my glass when I wasn't looking. I'm not saying she did it with malice or even as a joke. She would not reach that sophisticated level of humor for some years. But she did it.
So I turn back to the table, take a sip of my beer and suddenly find a soft, mushy, unpleasant foreign object in my mouth. Immediately the prehistoric, reptilian nodule at the base of my brain registered DANGER! and ALARM! and before the rest of my brain knew what was going on, I basically spat the offending substance across the lanai.
Let's look at this is slow motion: There's my little sweetie reaching out and dropping the bunka ball into the beer. There's Dad looking at the waves. There's Dad slowly turning back to the table and reaching for the mug. There he's taking a swig. Look at the expression on his face! It's not joy, surprise and wonder. Surprise, yes. Wonder, maybe. No joy. Pitttuiiii! There it goes! Look at the sodden projectile flying through air! Look at the faces of the people at nearby tables! What kind of maniac are they having lunch with?
Not exactly a Hallmark moment, but it is surprisingly one that my wife and I cherish. I guess because of the innocence of it. I have no idea of the name of the hotel where we stayed, what sights we saw or even what I had for lunch that day. But I'll never forget firing that beer-laden cotton ball across the restaurant.
This isn't to say that I don't have a lot of wonderful, less dramatic memories of my daughter growing up. I have many, and I could relate them here in exquisite detail until you are compelled to pull out a small, silver-blue revolver and put it to your temple. But it isn't necessary. It's all safely recorded in print and will be easily accessible to my future caregivers.
So I guess I lied at the beginning. I guess the father of a little girl is always the father of a little girl, no matter how old that little girl gets. Happy 18th birthday, Sarah, and thanks for the bunka balls.
, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org