Daddy-Daughter Time does not happen frequently enough for either of my girls. I actually spend virtually all my non-work time — with the exception of my five annual guy hikes — in the close company of my daughters, maybe not actively playing with them but still at hand for their nattering conversation, for their questions, for one’s reports of injustice at the hands of the other, for the lovely interruption of a book tossed in my lap to read aloud even though I’m in the middle of writing or researching a blog post. But each of my little dearies wants and needs to spend time alone with me and not have to compete with anyone for my attention for a while. We instituted Daddy-Daughter Time (also known as Millie-Daddy time and Mara-Daddy time) a year or two ago to fulfill this need.
Daddy-Daughter Time is really hard to schedule. Our lives are a mess. Angela works constantly; almost she is working whenever she is awake, and because I am 20-miles away sitting in a cubicle every day and unavailable, Angela also basically “runs the farm”, making the long and frustrating phone calls to internet service providers and dealing with leaky pipes. She also gets the girls where they need to be and makes sure they have playdates, which is another full-time job in itself. As for me, I’m constantly exhausted. My job is a good one, an easy one in many ways and free of the kind of stress that kills people, but I feel old and tired a lot. Something happened to me. I feel constantly the rush of my death toward me and the urgent need to be busy and experience life while I am still alive, but I also feel defeated much of the time, like I can’t get anything done, or even start things.
One thing on my mind a lot lately is how short a time we have to spend being with each other — whoever we are, all of us — just enjoying together the many wonderful things there are in this life, right under our noses. My recognition that the most important thing right now, always, is to spend time with other people who are important to me conflicts in my breast with other impulses, and I’m not referring only to my characteristic standoffishness. Most of the things I want to accomplish from one day to the next are solitary; I’ve actually been doing a lot of blogging on a family history website I started, digging up old photos and scanning and cataloging them and then posting them and writing whatever I know about the people or places in the photos (this is one of the reasons this here blog has wound down considerably). Pawing around in my family history has led to a whole side industry of contacting cousins and other relatives whom I have never met before or haven’t seen in decades, and trading photos and information, and this is all taking up a lot of my time as well.
So when we finally get a Daddy-Daughter day on the calendar, it’s the most valuable and precious thing. To me there is nothing more important, even though it seems often less urgent. Millie has wanted me to take her fishing for some while now, and she’s mentioned it enough times that I know it’s not just some one-time vapor of idea escaping her head. So I bought her a Disney Snow White closed-reel pole and we went up to the schoolyard to practice casting (after trying it on the sidewalk in front of the house first and wrapping the line around the telephone wires). She’s got it. The timing of a cast is the hardest thing a kid has to learn, motor-skills-wise. Let the button up too late and the lure whips onto the ground, too early and it sails up and lands behind you or wraps itself around an alder branch. I think we’re going fishing for trout early tomorrow if everything works out but it may not. We’re going to see the Doobie Brothers play at Zoo Tunes tonight (yes, the girls too, as part of their education in popular music of the late 20th century), and Sunday we’re going to a baseball game for Father’s Day, and there are a million other things that have to get done, too. We’ll see.
Last Saturday Mara’s turn finally came. We rented a canoe down at the university’s Waterfront Activities Center and paddled around in the marshes. It was a gorgeous morning. We saw mallard ducks, baby mallard ducks, a great blue heron, maybe a green heron, a curious red duck we couldn’t identify, and billions of geese. Turtles crawled out and lined up on logs to take the sun. And we heard redwing blackbirds by the score, though we only saw a few of them. We chattered amicably, which is something I hope never changes. I often think I should be having deep talks with Mara — she’s ten now and big changes are headed her way — but you can’t force those conversations with her. They happen or they don’t and mostly they don’t. She keeps a lot of her inner life quiet; it’s just who she turned out to be and it’s lovely and perfect.
But being an intensely expressive person myself, emotionally and intellectually, I sometimes wonder if I’m “being there” for her if we’re not sharing heart stuff out loud. It’s easy for me to lose sight of the fact that it’s the time spent that will have made the most difference to her, and to Millie, in the end. Just that. Just the fact that in such a busy life — when there are so many things I must do and so many other things I want to do, and so many of them the kind of things that take me away from people into my own crazy inner world — I would lay it all aside and climb into a boat with her and putter around among the reeds, fecklessly, unhurried. It’s so unintuitive and strange that while death is racing up behind us at a pace we can do nothing to alter, yet the most important thing I can do at this moment is to lay the paddle across my lap and sit utterly still and silent in the company of my daughter and regard the sunlit water drops hanging from the end of the paddle and then falling to make perfect little splash circles that eddy and disappear behind us as the craft keeps gliding forward.