Once again, deeper there on the trail crowded by overgrowth and choked by dust, I felt the responsibility in each of their little vulnerable steps.
“Dad, I can’t.” “Trust me, you can. Just put your foot right where you feel my hand.”
A few minutes earlier, we came to a small clearing right off the trail that gave glimpse to a waterfall. The sound of water rushing. The cool of mist hanging in air. They had to see it. The beauty of nature demanded attention. Between us and the sight to behold, a small rock face and a ledge to balance on. With little thought of anything going wrong, I started down the rock face determining our path. The descent, not much more than 20 feet, a bit precarious for their little legs and tense hearts, but necessary to see the waterfall completely. And in my mind, they absolutely had to see it.
I am father to three amazing little daughters. They have no other parent now. Just me.
I have little idea of how to raise daughters on my own. All the shifting intricacies and suddenly swelling emotions. I second guess myself and hesitate at least a handful of times most days. They cry huge girl tears which fall unexpectedly and unpredictably. I worry. What’s wrong? Before I can catch up and figure out what’s going on, they’re done. The moment behind them. Tears get lost in laughter. And they talk way too much by my account. Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing them talk about the day, their experiences and how they are seeing the world, but sometimes our conversational thresholds are very, very different.
Being dad rests as a huge responsibility in each day and decision. So much more than ever before or imagined.
Together, we crash landed onto the shores of life now and new. The wreckage of the life we knew still ablaze and in sudden disarray.
“DAD, you’re here!!!” they yelled with excitement.
Leaping hugs ensued as they engulfed me with energy building during the week we were apart. For a moment, I was raptured back to the world I knew when they would run to greet me as I returned from work. That world and the loving memories of it vanished with the words that followed. “Where’s mommy?” asked Elizabeth, our oldest daughter. “When is mommy coming home from the hospital?” asked Chloe, our youngest with anxious excitement. I could not even swallow to say something. This was so much more terrible than I could have ever imagined. Emily, our middle daughter, was quiet. I could tell she knew something was wrong, very wrong, as she backed into the shadows of her heart trying to not be part of what was happening. My heart crumbled and quaked inside of my chest. They had no idea yet exactly how dark the day was and how different their lives had become. As their daddy, the one person walking this Earth set to protect them, their words were like someone violating the sacredness of our family, our togetherness. It felt as though someone stabbed me in the heart with the dullest knife, maybe a spoon. And I swear I could see life dim a little in their eyes as they saw the loneliness present in mine.
“Let’s go outside. I need to talk to you, girls.”
That is how this together started; me and the three of them. A conversation about death and tragedy, what’s no more and unknown ahead. Together, in the middle of two very different days, all sinking and me trying to keep our heads above water rising.
Before their mother’s death, we were five together. Life was tamed by love and dreams to chase after. In so many countless little ways, life laid out far less complex and with comforting ease. Life made sense. God existed always measurably good.
I never imagined living life as a single parent. So much responsibility. Most of the time, details slip past me and dates fall through the cracks.
Here’s the thing: parenting is much more privilege and much less about responsibility.
It has to be. Otherwise, you’ll raise robots, rebels or aging dependents. It is not your responsibility to make your kids succeed in life. It is your privilege to lead them along treacherous paths and be a part of revealing the panoramic ahead.
Responsibility is a to do list, a weighted must; a burden lacking discovery, heroism, courage and love. Your kids will always remember moments you lifted them, times you saved them and whispers of greatness planted in the soil of their little looking hearts. The scariest thing I’ve ever had to do as their dad was let go. Responsibility hangs heavy in weighty apprehension. Do this. Say that. Allow this. Never that. Responsibility will keep you running to little fires with an always leaking bucket of maybes and overreactions and weak second guesses.
I can no more save them than I can myself. I had to let go of responsibility as priority in parental definition. It is a parenting must.
More than father to my three little beautiful daughters, I am a son made to belong where I shouldn’t by a forever loving Father who just does not quit. Loosening my grip on responsibility as king didn’t make me less responsible, but more responsive to their growing needs. The privilege of being dad to Elizabeth Marie, Emily Anne and Chloe Grace opens me to lead them wherever life turns and towards the women they will soon one day be.
We inched down the rock face, my hands and words guiding each step. Together we took in the view and felt the mist lightly spraying about us. We shared a small victory, their little hearts grew stronger and I learned more about parenting in that moment than most others before.
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