I was asked a couple of decades ago to MC a “Father-Daughter Banquet” at another church. I agreed, because any chance to stand up in front of people and fire off a few one-liners is an irresistible opportunity. But I found it an odd request. I was a father – to three boys; one around age 10, one around age 8 and another a toddling two-year old. Other than my wife, we were a boys-only club – we called ourselves “The Miller Men.”
I watched with amazement that evening as these fathers related to their daughters and suddenly felt a deep longing for an experience I’d never had. When I went home, I told my wife that I would like to try this girl thing and wondered if she was willing to give it a shot. She was willing, but told me that our family was going to be three boys and girl or four boys. It was not going to be four boys and…
I can still remember Josh’s words when we were expecting son #3. “I don’t want any girls in this family, dad. I’ve seen girls in action and they are nothing but trouble.” I was relieved, though, when he came back a few weeks later with a changed heart. “I’m going to love this baby, dad, I don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl, black or white.”
A year or so later we were in the birthing suite at St. Lukes Hospital in Cedar Rapids and I was doing what I had learned to do. The first time my wife gave birth I thought it would be interesting to actually watch it. I got wobbly but somehow avoided fainting. So, after that, I stayed on the north end of the sheet and “ministered” to my wife (I’m helpful that way). But this time, as the birthing process was nearing its end, I ventured to take a gander to see if I would be blessed with the daughter I had desired.
This baby was different in a significant way from my three boys. I will never forget the words of the doctor as he handed her to my wife to hold. He looked at me and said, “First, she will steal your heart, then she will steal your wallet.” Truer words have seldom been spoken. We named her Bethany, which means (at least according to some) “house of poverty.”
Raising a daughter is different than raising three sons. All my boys had mood swings, but theirs were measured in hours. Bethany could swing from extreme to extreme in a matter of seconds. And, of course, none of my sons would ever think of wearing pink. Now, there was little else in the house.
She went through several phases as she grew. There were the pink and frilly years. That ended around age 10 or so. She has never worn pink since. There was the blue jeans and black t-shirts era that lasted through those early teen years. Then, of course, she blossomed into a young woman.
She was always shy and kinda quiet – at least in public. But then, in high school, she became an accomplished actress, playing leading parts in several plays and performing with a show choir that was voted one of America’s three most favorite last year in Parade magazine. She left her shell behind. Last year we dragged her along on a mission trip to Taiwan and those two weeks changed her life. Now, she wants to honor God by accomplishing great things in his name.
What an amazing ride it has been. I learned a lot about women by helping to raise one (and realized there is more that I do not and perhaps never will understand). I have always told stories about my boys from the pulpit. I know some pastors don’t do that, but I have teased my sons from the pulpit and they (mostly) enjoyed it. Relax folks, I might have embarrassed them a little, but I never humiliated them.
I clearly remember one day when I learned that girls are different. We had an annual variety show at the church and I was again the MC. I did my thing and at intermission, my six-year-old daughter looked at my wife and asked, “Why did you marry such a peculiar man?” Jenni told me and I nearly split a gut laughing. So, when the second half of the variety show kicked in, I promptly told the story to the audience and looked back expecting to see my daughter’s smiling face. Nope. She dissolved into tears and ran out of the church, vowing to my wife never to return to that place again. From that point on, she pretty much never came up in my messages.
I remember a horrible moment when I sat her down to tell her we were moving to Sioux City. She had been born in Cedar Rapids. She lived in one house as long as she could remember, gone to the same church all her life and attended the same excellent Christian school from kindergarten through sixth grade. Our church had a large and wonderful group of kids her age. Her class in the Christian school was blessed with the nicest group of girls we could hope for – friendly, no cliques, great girls (and a few nice boys as well). Then, that Saturday night I had to tell her that some people from Sioux City would be in church and I was pretty sure that God was leading me away from her lifelong home to a strange new place. Hurt and anger were in her eyes behind the tears.
Then, suddenly, a light flashed on. She had been begging for a dog for a long time and her mom was adamant that a dog was a bad idea. She looked at me with a wry smile and said, “I bet I can make mom let me have a dog.”
He’s a black lab and his name is Tubbs.
High school was an amazing time. She entered a quiet, shy girl and left a confident, Christian young woman, a leader at her school. Recently, she got into poetry. I don’t know what I did wrong. I was an athlete who disdained science and artsy stuff. My oldest son just got a graduate degree from MIT. My second son left sports behind for other pursuits (at least he is now taking up the family business). My third son quit the basketball team to sing and dance. Then, my daughter got into poetry. Where did I fail as a father? Where?
A few months ago she said there was going to be a “poetry slam” at her school and she was entered. I had a meeting that night, so I kept in touch with her by text. “I’m in the second round.” “I’m in the finals.” “I won.” She won a poetry slam. That was great, but I still wasn’t completely sure what a poetry slam was. Did she recite poetry while doing wrestling maneuvers?
She then entered some local open adult “slams” (which by now I know are just poetry competitions). She placed third in one and second in another. She is pretty good.
It has been an 18 year adventure raising a daughter. Now, that job is winding down. Everything changed today. Yes, I’m still her dad. She will still need my money and hopefully, my support and encouragement and guidance. But she is on her own. She is now in the custody and care of Cedarville University. I am thankful to God for every minute of the last 18 years, three months and two weeks to this daddy-daughter thing.
I was thrilled with the way that she chose Cedarville. My second son lives in Lynchburg and works for Liberty, so I was pressuring her to go to that fine school (so her brother could keep an eye on her). She went to CFAW (College for a Weekend) and I hung out with my grandson across town. Later, she told me that she loved Liberty and had a great time, but from the first moment she stepped on campus she knew it was not the place for her. So, on the way home, we wandered north and stopped at Cedarville. She took the tour and never looked back.
I am glad she is going to Cedarville, but I can’t even imagine what life is going to be like without my daughter around. The apple of my eye is now out of my eyesight. She’s growing up and moving on and I’m excited for her.