Saturday, May 14, 2005


Congratulations, Jilly Bean!

My eldest daughter graduated from college today. I missed the ceremony, but I sent the following commencement note from her very proud Dadmanly.

Jilly Beans,

I have looked forward to this day for so long, but I can’t say I’ve known what I was going to say or how I would feel. (I certainly never thought I’d MISS it by being deployed here in Iraq.) So I grope around for some words to contain this swell of emotion, like some old guy in a movie, rummaging around for the glasses that are right on top of his head.

But this is a first time experience for you, too, so maybe like we have, all through this adventure called life so far, we can help each other make sense of it all. I know that’s supposed to be my job, but I don’t think you realize how important a role you play in how my life goes on from here.

Sure, you’re the one who needs to figure out what you want to be when you’re all grown up. You’re the one who has to figure out this whole credit card thing and debt load and loan repayments. And you’re the one who has to decide where to live, and what job to take, and what friends you try to keep for life and which ones you kind of say, “We’ll have to meet for lunch sometime or hit the clubs,” but you know and maybe hope you won’t. And you are the one who gets to walk around like France’s last Emperor, knowing that you paid your dues and you’ve arrived and you know all these things about yourself you didn’t know before.

Change is what you will be all about. But that’s cool, because you’ve gotten really good at change. You need to help me with change.

You got used to not living at a parent’s house, but still needing to take care of that thing you now call home, even if it’s a room and a ½ share of a kitchenette and bathroom. You got used to college courses, a whole lot of reading and writing. You learned the politics of the dorm committee. You became expert in Foreign Relations, dealing with the different nations of girls within the school, the turf, the rules, the secrets and scandals, and all the fun.

You mastered a big city. A very friendly one, with a great baseball sports franchise right next door, but a big city nonetheless. You are a subway woman, you never thought you would be. You did the whole spring break thing, and went native in the process. Ah, the tropics. You got involved in counseling and helping other people and being involved in your school and your community, and you are so much more aware of everything around you than you used to be. You know how to help your Dad navigate even when it’s his 5th time through the neighborhood.

You have dealt with all the roller coaster emotions of your friends and loved ones, you’ve felt the loss, and grieving as things change and sometimes go away even when they are the very best things. And you’ve experienced when the very best things turn into not so good things in ways you didn’t expect. You've gotten strong along with that heart that beats for those around you, with those eyes that see clearly all the interconnectedness in tugging bands between the things and people you care about the most. You’ve found love and lost love. You’ve fought and made peace. You’ve impacted those around you. You find your own wisdom, and you write your name on it and claim it as your own. You are strong and brave. You need to help me be brave.

You have prepared yourself for life on your own terms. You are ready for the scary ride to start, the big coaster, with the wooden railings and clackety clack wheels, the one that when you were a child was the scariest thing you could think of, being your own woman, and now you have learned that there are scarier things, and being your own woman can still be scary, but not as scary as exciting. In fact, you don’t even think about scary anymore, because you are too familiar with how scariness evaporates in the doing. Fear describes the field before the winning team runs past, and is no memory at all after the game is over. You need to help me see the hope that you see.

Change has become your companion, and you wear it like blue jeans, in comfort and with fades and little tears, and it fits you like those jeans. And everything you do is future now, new things, adventure, new challenges upon the old, and all kinds of decisions that will be your's alone to make. Mom and Dad and Mrs. Dadmanly and all those fans and supporters are all lined up in the cheering section, but Jilly Beans takes it from here, and she’s ready.

So what am I talking about, these things I say I need your help with: change, and bravery, and hope?

There was a little baby in a bassinet, as often, in a carriage for a bed, a tiny little puff of love that was her father’s joy at a time when I felt much like you feel now. Full of promise and everything new, but with this beautiful little person to be responsible for.

There was a little girl whose hair was like the flaxen wheat that brushed her face in the apple orchard. Who giggled and laughed and ran us all around in circles, with salamanders and toads as pets, so many pictures of this sprite fill the recesses of my memory. The dirndl dresses, the German school, all those older German ladies and stern gentlemen in Gasthauses, who melted like butter when this joyful little American Girl danced up to their tables. So much chocolate and kisses they had for you. Who came back to the states and brought her joy to bear on our suburban dreams. So many smiles you brought to us. How could we keep you in this happy present, and shield you from any pain or sadness that might come your way?

There was a young lady, who could be quiet but loved more to laugh and tell funny stories, the long ones that went on and on and on until we figured out your clever tricks. (But we never tired of the stories that were part of them.) So many days where we could just be silly, or go on trips, and Cape Cod became a Martha’s Vineyard of our own, with our own special beach, our special places, our favorite foods.

There finally was a young woman, who went away to school and started on this grand adventure, but sent us many emotional postcards on her way, that we still were able to enjoy her journey from not too far away. And all the adventures since, the classes and the upsets, the new experiences and trips and becoming an adult.

So what do I need your help with? How to move into this future with you. I will always be your Dad, but I want to be your friend, too. I will always love you more than life itself, but I want for you what makes you happiest. I will always be so proud of you, the person you are, your caring nature, your wonderful humor, the way you invest in people, and I will always be your biggest fan in taking on and making yours the life that you will lead.

My little girl is grown and on her way. She’s still my girl, I’m still her Dad, but there’s this big wide world that made this date with her to get this life going, and I’m here, waiting at home, hoping it all turns out alright, more than alright, I want this woman who is my child to be wonderfully and blessedly successful in her making of her happiness. I need to step back into the shadows of the porch, sit down and rock away the evening of my parenthood.

I know you’ll have great stories. I know you’ll do great things. I know that you know how to be happy, and I know that God gave you to us as this very precious gift, and He knows the purpose and plan that He has for you, and it’s a fine and wonderful thing.

You go with all my love, great pride in your accomplishments, and great faith in your capabilities. You go with my heart, but you leave yours with me as well.

Love always, your Dad, your friend, your biggest fan.

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