Dont say you werent warned.
Pending some catastrophe - hopefully, not in a literal sense - at the Department of Motor Vehicles, on Friday my oldest daughter will be legally able to operate an automobile on our nations highways.
Essa Elizabeth, or Thing One as we call her around my house (to distinguish her from Thing Two and Thing Three, her younger sisters), turns 16 tomorrow. Her itch to drive on her own overshadows the excitement of the birthday itself. Shes got me picking up another book for refresher study, and shes packing in the last few hours of learners-permit driving to make sure shes exceeded state requirements.
So soon shell likely have her license.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
OK, Im exaggerating. But thats an obligation of fatherhood; dads are supposed to sweat this kind of stuff. Grades are never high enough, boyfriends are never good enough, clothes are never modest enough. And driving skills are never good enough.
Driving without mom or dad in the passenger seat represents another loosening of the parental grip. And there can never be enough prep-aration to make it easier to let go of the hugs I first put on this kid 16 years ago.
It was at University Hospital, where baby Essa - a family name - entered the world Feb. 27, 1987. In the sterile, stainless-steel atmosphere of the old-style maternity ward, Essa in a tightly wrapped pink blanket was a splash of color and an explosion of sound. Doctors dont spank em like they do in the movies; from my experience, newborns pretty much squawk on their own to exercise their little lungs.
By that measure, Essa has gotten plenty of exercise. Lord, can that child challenge her parents eardrums - and our patience. She says she wants to become a psychologist, but weve often told her she should become an attorney because shes such an accomplished arguer. Maybe she should work for a collection agency; a few minutes of her haranguing and most people would offer to pay money they dont even owe.
Between those rare, buzz-saw challenges to parental authority, though, still shines the soul of the sweet little kid who was my ubiquitous sidekick back in the days when I worked shifts for the radio station and often had lots of time to play with her.
When she was still an only child, we dragged her everywhere. I have little tolerance for people who bring kids to the movies or other places where they are disruptive, and perhaps its because the tot I toted around was always well-behaved.
It wasnt just my proud perception. She really was that good, and strangers constantly told us how pretty she was, how well-behaved she was, how smart she was.
Naturally, we agreed. And we still do.
The time since the wonder years of babyhood has passed quickly. In the blink of an eye since she squawked into my arms, Essa has gained two sisters and seven cousins, and lost a great-great-grandmother, two great-grandfathers, two great-grandmothers and a grandmother.
That last one was especially hard: My mom dearly loved her first grandchild, and the feeling was mutual. Neither dad nor daughter will ever fill that void.
But the experience helped teach us that life is as much about gain as it is about loss. Gaining a daughter 16 years ago meant losing some of the freedoms a young couple had found, while losing a mother and grandmother brought with it a new appreciation for the lives of dear ones who still remain.
First among those is my oldest daughter, Essa Eliz-abeth, soon to loosen our grip by gaining a license.
Forgive me if Im reluctant to let go.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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