When Friends Matter More
My ex-wife and son were busy, so the plan was for me to pick up my 10-year-old daughter at 2:00 and drop her off at 8:00. There would be cupcakes, a hike to the summit of Lone Mountain, probably some more cupcakes, Penang curry & pad thai, and the charming way that only your daughter can cull meaning from the various stories she shapes with narrative to bestow upon their splintered totality the thing she calls her life. Of all the things she could possibly say, there’s nothing quite like what she ultimately says. I love her so constantly from the edge of my seat. She’s always on the ready to make new sense, dismantle it, and make some more. Her thoughts dart from place to place with the jacked up frenzy of a frantic hummingbird.
But then the call came. She was invited to an exciting day down on the fabulous Las Vegas Strip with the two girls who have, over the past year, formed 2/3 of their rock solid triangle of BFF friendship. The next part. How can I say it? I told her to have a super great time and meant it. I smiled as I said so and the smile was somehow, at the same time, genuine and propped up with the willpower that wants a coin toss to come up both heads and tails.
My little girl and her best friends remind me of my childhood friendships with Danny Parker and Chris Delaney. There’s something about a trio, a triangle, that feels more substantial than the two person line. What comes to mind is long, long (long) bicycle treks to each other’s houses, sleepovers, maniacal laughter, and the unconscious sense that we were the first people in the history of the world to discover this new form of human relations. This was not even close to being a son or a brother. This was a heroic leap outside that circle, the familiarity of family, into the great big unknown world of everything else. And the feeling I shared with my fellow explorers? It was an entirely new species of love, this friendship, and it was enlivened by the bold sense that the future was a boundless thing as big as forever. In other words, we would never die and this, things as they were, would never end. In still other words, we were down for life.
A concern of mine has been that social media, and the fact that my kids don’t ride bikes, would somehow degrade the magical powers of young friendship for my kids. This is probably just indicative of my advancing age and the tendency of the old to critique young people’s unique approach to the same old archetypes (of my stepdad shaking his head when the Beastie Boys appeared on the Grammy stage in 1986). But my daughter and her friends have proven to me that friendship is alive and well and that Facebook and Instagram can serve as instruments that replace landlines and loud shouts across the playground about meeting after school. Anyway, to watch my family dependent girl leap the gap to a tight-knit group of friends has been a thrill. It’s a common cliché to dwell on the perils of growing up, but it’s not without its share of giddy pleasures and delights.
However, I am an imperfect and messy man who, in addition to being happy for her, is also subject to thinking things like But what about the damn cupcakes and the mountain hike and me, you know, daddy? How many times, I wondered, had I felt tethered to her, trapped? And now, as she begins to construct a world to call her own, by what logic do I experience my freedom as a form of abandonment? Damn it. Is the grass always greener? To what end green grass? Can the fence itself hold up to a thorough line of questioning? She didn’t know when she’d be back or even if she’d be back before 8:00; she would call and let me know. I would read with half my heart, write with half my heart, and wait for her call so we could begin our day.
And I know you’re waiting, here, at the end of the essay, for a resolution of a kind, some valuable lesson learned. Perhaps my conflict rests as I bask in complete acceptance or balance is achieved when my daughter has a great time with both her friends and her daddy. Me too. I’m waiting too. I’m still waiting for my daughter to call.