I was in the bathroom, no shirt on, and shaving my face, when my five-year-old daughter came in to sing me a father’s day song. It was something she’d learned at church over the past few weeks, and all the kids were going to sing it to their fathers the following Sunday. It was evening. She was in pink and baby blue pajamas, her hair wet and combed back from taking a bath.
Norah ended the song with, “And give him a great! Big! Kiss!” Then she wrapped her arms around my leg, and kissed it. I looked down at her, my face half shaven. It was one of those hallmark moments where a little girl melt’s her father’s heart. I stood there for a while, soaking it in and smiling, when Norah said, “Daddy. Your ring is wet. You should take it off, or it will get rusty.”
She raised her eyebrows, something she often does to show sincerity, and I said, “I never take it off. And it doesn’t rust.”
Norah gave me a confused look, and I realized I’d never explained to her what a wedding ring was. What it signified. I tried to think about when someone explained it to me, and I couldn’t remember. It seems a constant. I’d always known. But what I do remember, very well, was shortly after my father left my mother, I found his ring on the bathroom counter. It was a gold band, with leaves printed on it. I must have been 8 years old. I remember looking at it for a long time, realizing what it meant for the ring to be sitting there, not on his finger. It meant that my family was changing. It meant that my father had gone back on his promise to love and care for my mother forever. I felt a deep pit in my gut the day I found my father’s ring, and when Mel slid our wedding ring on my finger, I promised to never take it off. This is not to say that I haven’t taken it off from time to time. I used to take it off when I lifted weights in my 20s, because it was bending the ring. And I used to take it off when I worked for the power company because it was an electrical conductor. But unless there was a real, practical reason to take it off, I never did because I knew what it meant. And after having children, I’ve made it a point to never take it off in front of them.
“Do you know who gave me this ring?” I asked.
Norah thought about it for a moment. Then she said, “Mommy gave it to you.”
“Yup,” I said. “She gave it to me when we got married. I gave her one, too. I promised to always wear my ring, and mom promised to do the same. Mom and I have been married for over ten years, and I have worn it every day since she gave it to me. I don’t ever want to take it off, because if I did, that would mean that Mom and I were no longer married.”
Norah raised her eyebrows at that comment. I don’t think she’d ever thought about that. Divorce is not something we bring up in our house. Early on, Mel and I made a commitment to never make it an option. It’s funny to think, though, how much my parent’s divorce changed my life. It got harder after my father left, and the thought that Norah had never really thought about it, makes me feel like maybe I was doing a decent job.
“When I get married,” she said, “I want a BIG ring. With lots of jewels that sparkle.”
“Is that how you will know if you’ve found the right person?” I asked. “If they can afford to buy you a really big, nice wedding ring?”
Norah’s eyes lit up, and she nodded. Norah is a girly girl. She is really into Disney Princesses and play dresses and her favorite colors are pink and purple. Sometimes I look at all the Frozen stuff in her room and feel like I’m paying the mortgage on Elsa’s ice castle. Most of the time this doesn’t bother me. I don’t mind her being a typical little girl. But right then, when she said that her hope was to find someone who could buy her a big fat ring, as if it were the only major factor in marriage, really scared me. It told me something about her priorities. That she was obviously looking for some rich prince charming. She was looking for someone who would treat her like a princess. Someone to buy her things and dote over her, when what I wanted was for her to find a partner. Someone who viewed her as an equal, and she felt the same about them.
I was done shaving. I rinsed off my face. Then I said, “When I married your Mom, I didn’t have money for a big fat ring. I was in college. I had money for a small ring. I couldn’t even afford a band. I had to buy that a few years later. Good thing she didn’t tell me no when I asked her to marry me because the ring I had to offer was really small.”
Norah thought about that for a moment. Then she nodded.
“You know what I want for you? I want you to find someone that treats you like a partner. Do you know what that means?”
Norah shook her head. She looked a little nervous, and a little curious, and I was just happy that she was paying attention. At the age of five, this is a rare thing.
“A partner is someone that treats you like an equal. It’s someone who works along side you. They don’t think they are better than you, and you don’t think you are better than them. You take on everything together. You love each other and you both respect each other’s opinions and wants. That what Mom and I do. We take what money we have, our time, and together we figure out where it could be used best. If you find someone willing to do that, it doesn’t matter how big the ring is as long as you always wear it.”
I’m not sure if Norah fully understood what I was saying, but I think she got just enough to say, “You’re a good daddy.”
“You’re a good Norah,” I said. “I love you.”
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him onFacebook and Twitter.