When Your Daughter Turns Sixteen, and You’re Not Ready

I remember the light from our closet, and Sara rustling around inside. It was early. Too early.

“You okay?” I asked.

“My water broke,” she said. We were just twenty-three. Babies, it seems now, having babies.

I tried to help get her ready but there was nothing much I could do. Her bags were packed and she was ready to go, but she insisted she didn’t want to go yet, so all I could do was pace. Finally, I turned on my Sega Dreamcast, and played a frantic and frenetic game of Crazy Taxi. For at least an hour, I skidded and smashed my way through the virtual streets of San Francisco. I was antsy, barely in control of my yellow cab, and barely aware of where I was supposed to be going.

Eight hours later, a nurse slid my pink and screaming daughter into my awkward, shaking arms, and I was undone.

Sara and I always tell new parents they can’t be ready when the first child comes. Not really ready.  There are too many eventualities, too many blinding surprises–both good and bad–that will re-route even the best made predictions about what parenting will be like. And even if those detours are rare, you’ll never know the feelings you feel until you actually feel them. You can’t be ready.

But I never knew that such advice was evergreen, or that it was actually for me. Parents can’t be ready for their daughters to turn sixteen. Not really ready.

Since the day Emily was born, we have skidded and smashed our way through grade school, middle school, and middle adolescents; through four states and four siblings, and a thousand iterations of “I’m sorry.” And we’ve been antsy, barely in control, with only a vague impression of where we were going.

Part of me is a little ashamed, because I thought I’d have figured it out by now. I thought understand this thing called “fatherhood,” and how to graciously adapt as our children adapt. But instead, I’ve incurred massive debts to my kids as they’ve grown. All five have had so much to forgive, and I fear they may have to forgive more, because I’m such a slow learner.

And yet, miracle of miracles, here she is. Our prototype. She’s a strawberry blond wordsmith whose mind runs on fairy tales and hot tea. She stands there with her poet soul somehow intact, and her ever-breaking, ever-healing heart softened and ever-turned toward her family. You should see the patience she gives to her brothers, how she cheers on her sister and mother, and how she continues to overlook her father’s ineptitude. We did well to give her the middle name “Grace,” for that is what she breathes.

Even today, she exhales it. While the family should be dancing the day away in honor of this milestone, her autistic  brother Jack is about to undergo a major medical procedure two hours away. That means we’re leaving on her birthday, and the party has to wait. It’s so typical of her childhood. So many interruptions. So many hours borrowed. But in her eyes, so much compassion.

And now’s happening, but I’m not ready. My girl is poised to take her steps toward full adulthood, and I am still undone. There are a million books about parenting, but not a single one on how to usher this particular girl into adulthood. All I can do is buckle up once more, clutch my wife’s hand, pray to God for safety, and thank Him for this extravagant and beautiful gift: my Emily.

4 replies
  1. Christopher Audet
    Christopher Audet says:

    Happy birthday to Emily! And best wishes for the surgery…it always brings me joy to see your family interactions. Imperfect and genuine and heartfelt.


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