When the sonographer told us that we were having a girl, I said, “Are you sure you’re using that right?”
Mel was in a hospital bed, slightly inclined, her pregnant stomach pushing out beneath her shirt and covered in clear medical jelly. She hit me in the arm.
I was 24, and this was our second child. My question was supposed to be a joke, but behind each joke, there is some reality. I have one sister, and she is 7 years older than me. Honestly, she felt more like a second mother than a sister. I hadn’t spent much time around little girls, so when I did, they seemed screechy and strange. Our son, Tristan, already made a lot of sense to me, and the thought of having another boy felt comfortable. I remember looking at the black and white, blurry sonogram image of our baby on the screen. I assumed what I was looking at were hips, and between them was now an arrow pointing, and below it, was written “girl.”
I recall asking myself, “What does it mean to be the father of a daughter?” And when I thought about that question, I got really scared.
Norah is five now. What I’ve learned is that being the father of a daughter means a melted heart. It means reading a poorly written book that summarizes the movie Frozen every night for six weeks, and although the writing is terrible, and I’m sick of the story, I do it because few things are sweeter than having my daughter snuggled up next to me. It means driving to work at 6AM, alone, and someone finding myself singing “Let It Go.” It means looking at Barbie and wondering if she is setting a bad example of beauty for my daughter. It means seeing my Norah kiss a boy on the playground, and feeling a deep and unexpected anger, and realizing that the thought of Norah’s teen years makes me think about murder. It means looking at Norah’s sweet blue eyes, and realizing that she has as much power over me as I have over her.
When Norah was two years old, she accidently stuck her right hand in a bowl of 400-degree oven-baked mashed potatoes a doting brother pushed next to her. She cried loud and hard, and as I sat next to that sweet, chubby-cheeked little girl in the emergency room, listening to her deep wail as the nurse peeled away her soft, dead skin, I cried harder than I did at my father’s funeral. How could I have anticipated that surge of emotion? I’d never wanted to take someone’s pain away until then. I’d never felt that before, and honestly, I never want to feel it again. I want Norah to be whole. I want her to be sweet and wonderful forever. In that moment, in the emergency room, I never wanted her to feel pain ever again. I felt the strongest need to protect her. And yet, this moment was evidence that I wouldn’t always be able to protect her. She would get hurt again someday, and that meant that I would hurt, too.
When she was four, she had her first crush on a young boy who wore a Link consume most days. And although this kid came from a good family that my wife and I knew very well, and he was well behaved and had good manners, I couldn’t help but look at him and think, “Norah. You can do better.” The moment that thought crossed my mind, I was struck with the age-old question that seems to hit most fathers: who is good enough for my daughter? I got the answer almost immediately, “no one.” Yet, I knew that she would one day meet someone and fall in love, and somehow I was going to have deal with that, and I didn’t know how. The thought of it made me want to lock her away in a tower until she was in her mid 30s, old enough to make a level-headed decision, and suddenly I was sounding more like a villain in a fairy tale than a loving father.
Having a daughter meant a mix of new emotions that, for me, as a man, were completely unexpected. It meant realizing that I, indeed, had a soft side. It meant that I wasn’t as tough as I always thought I was. Or tried to present myself, anyway. It meant realizing that nothing was as gratifying as the words, “I wove you daddy,” and no words stung worse than, “I’m never ever going to talk to you ever again!”
Last year, Mel had another ultrasound. And sure enough, we were having another girl. Tristan, my oldest son, asked if we could change it to a boy. And Norah smiled from ear to ear at the thought of having a baby sister. Mel laughed.
The next day it was just Norah and me in our car. We were driving home from Tristan’s soccer practice. “Let It Go” came on the radio, and Norah sang along in her sweet, charming, five-year-old voice. And like it always does when Norah sings, my heart melted. Suddenly I was struck with the realization that we were going to have another sweet little girl, and I would get to feel this way again. I’d never been more excited.
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