“Come play with me, Daddy,” she says, and her red hair bounces slightly as she cranes her neck to look at me. I reach out and her hand is swallowed whole by my huge hairy paw. We walk down the beach and talk amongst the crabs and seashells of toys and boys and everything between. She speaks quickly in an almost nonstop flow of chatter about her imaginary friends and her adventures and her dreams and aspirations and why she wants to be an astronaut and ride dolphins in space. I nod without condescension and my smile on the inside threatens to split me like a pinata.
She talks about marrying her daddy and tells me she loves me. I love her too and tell her that her daddy is the only person she could marry, because no other man would treat her the way that she deserves. She looks me in the eyes sagely, nods her head, and changes the subject to her disdain for dolls and her love of robots who transform. I teach her about truth and justice and why Superman is the best hero ever. She teaches me about beauty and grace and why dirty hands and messy faces don’t really matter.
She gets older and I am her protector and knight in armor. I shield her from the horrors of the world while teaching her to be vigilant and savvy. We talk about weighty issues and her innocence and optimism pull me back from the brink of darkness repeatedly. I hesitantly let her venture out alone. I hold my breath and sit by the door until she returns. I rebel against her independence and strength until I realize that it is a reflection of me, only more perfect.
I’m her best friend. Her confidante. She tells me everything when I tuck her in and read her stories. She calls me from school and talks about her classes and boyfriends. She asks me about my life and pushes me to do more. She’s never embarrassed of me or ashamed that I am the way I am. She embraces it all and loves me as unconditionally as I love her.
When she brings him home, I hate him. He’s taking her away from me. “I’ll always belong to you, Daddy,” she says, taking my hand, reading my mind. I wonder when she became so perceptive. Her china white fingers look so fragile, but I know she’s strong. I have to let her go. Someone with her spirit and courage needs to belong to the world. I’ve done my job and can’t be selfish any longer.
There’s that tug again. A quick grasp on my leg. I look down and
It must have just been my imagination.