Having the day to myself today, this morning I took myself out to breakfast. This is something I will often do for no other reason than to get out of the house and be served coffee while I read or brainstorm a few notes onto a 3×5 card. Since I work at home, there are times when it’s simply a healthy idea to get out of the basement once in a while — even if I’m not actually meeting someone, it helps to be out in public sometimes. And sometimes there is an element of people-watching that can take over or distract me from my book and my 3×5 cards. Don’t knock it, you’ve all done it — and apparently if you haven’t done it, you’ve never been to New York.
Anyway, I often like to go to Aalto’s Garden Cafe at my local Canad Inn. There are often a good number of seniors there, and in the earlier mornings you’ll overhear Christian-themed conversations taking place — meetings with the pastor or perhaps a men’s group, things like that. Both of these are signs of an inexpensive breakfast special, and Aalto’s delivers not a bad one at that.
So I’m eating my breakfast (delivered today with a bonus slice of toast for some reason) and reading Clay Shirky discussing Linux and the Open Source movement. I’m fairly well-versed in this area and have read the sources he cited on the subject (plus many more besides), and I find the topic somewhat compelling. Here it was interesting in the way he drew analogies and applications from that context into the context of social capital and renewed models of collaboration (furthering some ideas from last week). I recommend the book — the only reason I haven’t ploughed through it faster is a slight lack of reading time as other demands and commitments surface.
Well. So as I’m munching, sipping, and reading, I keep overhearing snippets of conversation from the booth next to (in front of) me. I’m sitting there facing the dad, his daughter’s back is to me — there are just the two of them. Some scenarios seem fairly obvious with very little filling-in of the blanks, and this was one of those. Not having spoken with them at all, I could be wrong — but I’m probably not off by much. The tale is of a father delivering his daughter to another city for the first time, with her about to start a university education. They’re from Thunder Bay, about an 8-hour drive away, and this event marks her growing up and leaving home. It’s a new experience for both of them, so either she’s the oldest, or she’s an only child, or she’s the first to go away to school. Or maybe she’s just the first daughter to do so. (No sexist quip allowed on that remark — I’m a father of two daughters, and ain’t nobody going to tell me some of these events are no different than with sons).
They’re talking about the new apartment, and he’s concerned to make sure there’s a smoke detector installed, and that it works properly. He listed what she had to have by law, including not only the smoke detector, but running water…” there was a short list, I tuned out again. He had hoped to run into her caretaker, but they hadn’t (at least not yet). He was glad she had a good parking spot, and he encouraged her to practice backing into it before winter came. He told her that if she didn’t like it (the apartment, I presume), she could always just rent a half-ton truck and move somewhere else, explaining that she could get some boys from her class to help, she should “just pick up a case of beer, order some pizza or somethin’,” and they would help her move. Less than $100, he told her. “But at least you’re here,” he said. It went on like this for a while as I tuned in and out, mostly keeping my eyes on my book or my breakfast special, glancing to the waitress when my coffee needed refilling.
The daughter’s responses — the ones I could hear — seemed to range from volunteering additional information and status reports like the cleanliness of the refrigerator to that sort of “I know, Dad” that constitute that half-dismissive, half-embarrassed reaction that only takes place from a daughter to a father. The kind that’s tinged with an undertone of “I know you’re only saying this stuff because you love me, but Dad, come on, already…” He told her he’d meet her there (the apartment, I presume again), and that he’d pay for breakfast. She got up and was off while he examined the bill for a moment before departing after her. Yup, I confirmed. She’s not too tall, and looks a bit young. (They’re looking younger every year.) She seems fairly excited about the new adventure, being out on her own for the first time — but knowing that mom and dad are always there, not far away. But just far enough. The excitement is generally enough to overcome her misgivings, and she probably knows those will fade as she starts into her classes. Like any father, this one had his own misgivings about letting go, but knowing there was nothing he could say or do about it anyway. And knowing it was still the best thing for her. He isn’t at peace with it all just yet. It seems strange, but he probably knows it’ll come.
I wondered if I should introduce myself, tell the dad it’s okay. Offer my phone number in case she needs anything after he’s gone. I don’t, of course… first, being INTP-introverted and second, being unshaven and afraid of looking pedophilic while trying for avuncular and being afraid of missing the mark. The dad, of course, will have to go back and report to the mom that everything was okay, she was all set up and would be just fine. Still, it’s a good bet that mother and daughter would already have talked on the phone by the time he got home. The house will seem almost unnervingly quiet for a while. And all the same, they’ll both secretly look into her room at her empty bed before they turn in for the night… more than once apiece in the first couple of weeks. She’ll probably catch him looking, and he’ll be embarrassed, briefly.
I’ve offered Thoughts on raising daughters before, though nobody will claim to offer such ideas with extreme confidence. We all know there are eventualities coming that they will be more ready for than we will be. The reason I have the day to myself is that my wife and kids are off for an overnight with her folks. And I’ve got work to do, so I’d best be off, I reason. But I’m reminded again of how common so many of our experiences are, and how we can relate to people even in situations we haven’t been through ourselves, yet. Perhaps I might once have called them moments for pastoral guidance, but now they seem much more everyday… opportunities for neighbourliness. But still — I want to make sure I come across as avuncular (or at least neighbourly) when I’m supposed to. In the meantime, I decide to avoid considering the eventuality that will someday invade my life the way it has this father’s. When that time comes, though, I’ll remind my daughters that we live in walking distance of a decent university. In fact, the previous two owners of our house were university professors, I’ll tell them. Perhaps in just eight more years I’ll offer an update and let you know if it’s working. Eight years in child-rearing time — for those who don’t know — passes you by in about two and a half weeks. Best make the most of it.