“Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad.” This is how my daughter gathers up my scattered attention into one focused lump. “Watch!” She runs toward the pool, jumps, transforms from a 9-year-old girl into a cannonball, and makes a huge SPLASH! Wet old people grimace. The sun continues to hurl 100+ temps at the valley. The earth spins on its axis, devoted. Anxious traffic crawls and honks. My daughter emerges from beneath the water, smiles at me, and swims away, a happy little fish with yellow hair. My God how I love her.
In order to avoid thinking, a lot of fathers immediately inhabit an outworn stereotype when someone mentions the prospect of boys eventually dating their daughters. They become caricatures of anger and make wisecracks about running boys off with guns or keeping their daughters locked up until some ridiculous age. But I’m curiously warm to the idea of my daughter going on dates someday. Mostly because I think she’s really cool and falling in love is a wonderful thing to do between broken hearts.
“Are you looking for Gate B-8, sir?”
“Indeed,” I reply.
“Nonstop flight to Chicago?”
“How did you know?”
“Because that’s exactly where I’m headed,” she beams, “Climb aboard!” She’s too small to climb aboard—I would crush her—so I latch my hands on her shoulders and follow her around the room. Her arms are outstretched. She’s a little airplane in a yellow dress. The clouds are fat and happy ghosts that haunt, lazily, as if from big celestial hammocks, the fearless blue sky. I listen to the drone of propellers and Bob Dylan. My daughter offers me honey roasted peanuts and a diet Coke. My eyes hone in on a suburb of 100s of tiny houses below and I dream about the various dramas occurring simultaneously and ignorant of one another. A man is yelling something about a wet dog and an open door. Another one hopelessly pays the bills. A woman paints her toenails blue and remembers what the boy said on the playground years ago. A door slams. Somewhere, two people have sex as if the fate of the world depended on that frantic brutal deed.
As she grows up, as the boys and men inevitably gaze at her more and more from that perspective of apprehending her only as an object with which to have sex, it will become increasingly important for her to not permit those gazes to construct the woman she sees in the mirror, to refuse becoming a prisoner of that perspective. In this regard, I consider it an essential responsibility of my fatherhood to provide my daughter with an endless supply of avenues to otherness, keys out of the jail of certainty and the stasis of identity. Which means taking her to modern art museums, constantly using the words or and maybe, and celebrating the myriad ways she girls in the world. There are as many ways to be as there are stars in the sky and more. Of course a sexual being will be one way for her to understand herself, indeed a wonderful way, but in the end only one facet of numberless ways to shine.
“Tick… tick… tick,” my daughter is hiding beneath my desk and tapping my ankle and ticking. I’m trying to write this essay. People are dying in the war. People are dying in the street. My neighbor is in jail for selling methamphetamine. There is more than just our story. We are more than who we are. “Tick… tick… tick… Guess what I am, daddy. Guess what I am.”
“A clock,” I guess, thinking about deadlines.
“Nope,” she grins, “I’m a bomb—KABOOOOOOOOM!”
One of my biggest hopes for my daughter is that she never sells herself short in terms of what a girl’s for. What’s a girl for? A girl’s not for anything. Nothing. Not a single thing. A girl is for holding the space between, for or. And only from this space between, from nothing, can she ever and continually participate in the groundless potential of anything. She’s everything. My daughter is a cannonball, a fish, an airplane, and more—may she never stop exploding.