I was lead to believe that being a teacher was the most important part of being a dad. Teach you how to eat, teach you how to walk, teach you how to read, teach you long division, teach you kindness, teach you what the best cartoons are, and teach you how to sneak downstairs to steal chocolate without me knowing.
I didn't grow up with sisters in my family so I never saw the day in and day out experience of a young girl. I wondered how in the world I was going to be able to translate what I experienced growing into anything that could help your own growing up.
I have spent years and years trying to figure this out, trying to find ways to make myself valuable to you and to be someone you can always rely on for help, whether you like me much in that moment or not.
Today you are nine.
Today I am much more aware that learning is the most important part of being a dad. I know this because you are such a good teacher.
You have taught me how smart young girls are. You have taught me that nerd is a nice word. You have taught me how to unabashedly like things that seem incompatible. You have taught me that swear words aren't the greatest evil when it comes to things we say to other people. You have taught me about how important it is for me to be the man I want to be not the man others want me to be. Mostly, you have taught me that dads and daughters can have an relationship built on trust and understanding even if their life experiences are different.
Now that you are nine, we are getting close to the time in your life where people assume dads go wild and start getting overprotective. "No boyfriends until you're 40!" they scream. So now is where we prove that you and I have been building towards a compatible understanding of who you are and who I am. I still find this one of the biggest mistakes a dad can make with his daughter. We know that you can have a boyfriend before you're 40 and that you can have a girlfriend before you're 40 too. And we know that being a threatening person about those partners is the greatest way to close off conversations about your life.
You're also at a time where your body and mind will change more rapidly than any of us are probably prepared for. I have been taught that dads don't need to talk about such things with their daughters. That menstruation and bra shopping are things that women should talk about only among themselves. That is garbage and not very smart. Silence brings shame, and nothing about you is shameful.
But that's why we talk so much now and why I try to keep learning about these changes. That's why I tell you about my own mental health and explain to you how I need to keep learning ways to help my brain. That you have talked to me about stress and anger and the things that you find hard to control means those conversations have had some kind of positive impact. I think.
I want you to know how much I love our high fives, our hugs, and our dances. I don't expect that you'll want to do any of those things with me every day but I don't want you to think I'm sad about that. I also don't want you to think I'd ever turn down an offer to do any one of those things. And if you do catch me looking at my phone saying I'm too busy to hug, hit me. Hit me in the leg or tickle my armpits and smarten me up.
As you grow older, and so much damn taller, I find myself fighting between wanting to rewatch all the things you have already done and wanting to see all the things you have yet to do. I am as in love with the visions and ideas and future career paths you dream up as I am in love with you. I love that one day you want to invent a convertible minivan and the next day become a veterinarian even if you aren't the most comfortable around dogs. I teach you you can be any of these things, but I learn that you can be all of them if you want.
I think it is really important to tell you how much I love you and cherish the friendship part of our relationship as well. Grownups like me need kids like you to clean up a lot of the mess that we somehow continue to create. It's not fair that we keep doing this, but we have.
I'll try and keep trying to support you in the growth that will allow for that and I'll go to whatever lengths you need me to. Maybe that's laughing at your jokes, maybe it's talking about a breakup. Maybe it's reading up on a science project you tried in school, maybe it's sitting quietly on the edge of your bed for an hour.
I will keep learning. Thank you for teaching.