The words which every dad of daughters cringes over became a reality for me the other day. As I picked my children up from summer school, I could see the excitement on the face of my nine-year-old. As she stepped up into the truck it was like she was going to burst. Saying our hellos was rapidly overshadowed by her immediate asking “guess what.” Sensing that she had a good day, I was interested in what the child had to share with me about her day. Before the words could escape her little mouth, her elder sister, in her best older sister fashion of ruining her siblings surprise, quickly asserted “you’re not gonna be happy”, as her face displayed a cynical grin. With my interest fully peaked at this point I turned to the child and encouraged her to share her story.
With my excitement growing due to the build up of anticipation I listened with a smile as the child began sharing with me this thing which caused her to be so overly excited and resulted in this day being the best day ever. Then it happened, the words flowed forth, causing an immediate heat flash to consume my entire mind, boy, and I’m pretty sure soul. As the child, giddily, sharded “I have a boyfriend” I sat speechless, expecting a much more exciting narrative, forgetting what it was like to have the “first love”. Understanding that third grade love is for the most part harmless, I did my best to encourage the child and display some symbolic expression of excitement for her all while dreading the fact that my little girl was growing up. As her sister sat, still grinning, seeming to be waiting for good ol’ dad to “freak out” and give her little sister a talking to about how Stephens girls find their boyfriends disappear after dad finds out, a narrative I have often passed on to my girls jokingly. Her pleasant anticipation was short lived, and the grin transitioned into an expression of shock when dad simply shared that he thought her finding a boyfriend was great and he was happy for her. Taking a second take, the elder sister could only muster the words “Wait...what” to dads reply.
Her elder sister’s response and confusion stemmed from the fact that when I replied to the newly found knowledge that my little princess had found her knight in shining armor, it was drastically different than when she herself first told her mom and I about a love interest. I routinely joked and discouraged the topic of liking boys; don’t you know they have cooties? I know, I know, but come on, I’m a dad. As stated, this time was a little different. For months, Riyann has discussed the fact that she is simply “bummed out” and doesn’t know how much she can take because her “little heart is broken into a million pieces” She describes that she has approached a couple classmates, explaining to them that she likes them only to receive the response that they didn’t like her then abruptly running away. She longed for the one boy she could call her own just as her friends had. Seeing the joy and excitement coupled with the fact of truly, how dangerous can third grade love be, I simply rolled with it rather than my initial response of “Oh heck no”. Now my fatherly responsibilities continue so I had to ensure that she knew that although I was happy for her, there were still the rules of engagement... no holding hands, no hugging... and definitely no kissing. Shyly, while maintaining the smile of experiencing “the best day ever”, she replied that she understood but couldn’t promise there wouldn’t be at least one “big hug.”
As we traveled home, I continued reveling in the excitement my little girl was feeling while laughing a little inside at her sister’s continued confusion coupled with excitement because of the newfound love interest. I thought about how truly important it is to allow our loved ones to experience life. Protecting our children and loved ones is a crucial role of every parent. Similarly, allowing them to experience all the special things life has to offer while watching at a distance is encouraging true growth. Growth not only on the part of our children but likewise on our part. Although it seems contrary to my role as a daddy, I find myself hoping for at least one more day before the little boy takes off running and messes it all up, leaving my little princess experiences heartbreak again. I will have plenty of time in the future to revert to my old nature of chasing them away, for now, I will enjoy the moment.
Revel in life, hold on to love and welcome kindness my friends. For these are the moments which wisdom is gained.
Richard J. Stephens lives in Carter County and is the father of three little ladies ranging in age from eight to 29.