Friday, March 5, 2010

Dinner With My Daughter

[This was written a few years ago the day after I met with my daughter.]

I had dinner with my daughter last night. She was arriving from out-of-town, and since our house was closer than her condo, she dropped by to see us. She and I ended up going to a Mexican restaurant together.

While munching on chips, she complained that she was suffering from jet lag.

“That means that your soul is out of time phase and hasn’t caught up with you yet,” I explained.

“Umm hmm.”

“So you shouldn’t get online for a while,” I continued.

“Why is that?”

“Because when you IM or in a chat room, your persona is extra-geographical.” I was patient in my explanation.

“I see. Extra-geographical. Have some cheese dip.”

“Yeah. And if your persona, which would exist outside of geography, meets up with your soul that is outside of time, you would become a ghost. In fact, that is where ghosts come from.”

She mulled this over for a second and responded, “But Dad, there were ghosts before the internet and flying.”

“Well, I’m working on that part.”

“You’re in your weird zone, aren’t you?”

I don’t see my daughter as much as I want to these days. She is 33 and has her own life, most of which doesn’t involve me. I try to console myself with the knowledge that ‘the love between parent and child is the only love that must grow toward separation’. The words are easier than the reality. Although we are close and talk freely with other, I feel the loss of her daily presence.

“Toby wants to have lunch with us sometime soon,” she informs me. Toby is a quadriplegic attorney that works with the same firm as my daughter. He is developing quite a reputation in litigation circles. In fact, there was a local TV special about him – something like ‘Success: Against All Odds’.

“We can have lunch with him, but I don’t want to feed him!” She giggled. Usually Toby has a nurse with him that feeds him, although many times dinner companions from the law firm take up the duty – a meaningful show of respect and intimacy.

“Okay, I’ll tell him that.”

“Also tell him that I will throw food at him if he is hungry. It would be up to him to catch it in his mouth.”

“Okay, I’ll tell him.”

Never one to leave well enough alone, I continued. “In fact, we should go to an Italian place, and I could throw spaghetti at him.” We started giggling at this notion. “Besides, I have never trusted a lawyer that didn’t have food stains on his tie.” We tried to shake the image of spaghetti flying at Toby while he tries to catch it with his mouth.

My daughter and I have always enjoyed each other. As a child, she would always make a point of introducing all of her friends to me. During her slumber parties I would always do two things. The first was to cook for the kids – and the favorite became my made-up recipe for a Sugared Apple Cinnamon Cheese Omelet. Soon this became a standard request for me to make when her friends would come over. The second engagement I would have with her friends is to tell a story. And it became a traditional story. A really stupid story.

I would talk about an Indian child in the forest. I would very slowly and deliberately pantomime the Indian lad pulling an arrow from his quiver, notching the arrow into his bow string, pulling back the string to test the tension, then raise the bow and arrow straight up, pull back hard, and release the arrow into the air with a “Pfffffffft”.

Then I would whisper, slowly and wonderingly. “I shot an arrow into the air. Where it fell I know not where.” I would look around and up into the sky and peer into the distance for the arrow. Then I would shrug. Suddenly I would make the “Pffffffft” sound, and pound the side of my fist into the top of my head, to indicate the arrow hitting my head. This was very entertaining to my daughter’s childhood friends and they would always laugh and intone the “Pffffttt” themselves. But oddly, as my daughter grew older and her friends grew older, they always asked for the Sugared Apple Cinnamon Cheese Omelet and the arrow story. These were now high school kids, still laughing and rolling over the arrow hitting me in the head. In fact, for some this became sort of a secret signal. If I saw one of the kids somewhere, they would slam the side of their fist in their forehead, and I would do the same in return. Private, secret communications.

I slowly became a confessor to some of her friends. They would come to me with their problems and ask for advice on boyfriend problems or parent problems or teacher problems. I never had sage advice. I would just repeat their stories back to them from a slightly different slant and emphasize and exaggerate certain parts of the tale, then would ask them what advice they would give. Most of the time, they were right on the money. Then we would part with the fist-to-the-head signal.

As my daughter bit heartily into the Chicken Quesadillas, she started regaling me with her adventures on the latest case she is working on. She is a Paralegal. I tried to stay interested. But, in fact, I was more interested in the fact that she has become a success in her own right and that her interests have strayed far from her Dad and his omelets and arrow story.

I guess she and I really bonded when she was in the eighth or ninth grade. One day she refused to go to school and locked herself into her room. After repeated requests, she finally let me in. She sat on the foot of the bed sobbing while proclaiming that she hated school and her teachers were stupid and she doesn’t know what is wrong with her and nobody likes her and she hates her boyfriend and everything is so confusing and she is lost. I recognized it as the tumble of puberty and of growing up and the fear of responsibility that it was. I also recognized that there wasn’t a lot I could do about it. The best I could offer was a hug. So I sat beside her and hugged her, and suddenly all of my fears and heartache crashed through my defenses, and I began sobbing. So we sat there for fifteen minutes hugging and rocking and crying together while I would gasp things like, “Honey, I just don’t know what I can do to make things better”, and “I’m sorry – I’m so sorry that you are hurting.”

Years later she told me that she never felt such love and concern and protectiveness gushing out of me than during those fifteen tear-stained minutes. She went on to say that suddenly everything was better and that she felt whole. I think that was our true bonding time.

She finished her story and quesadillas and I finished my fajita enchiladas with queso. She then began talking about her argument with her mother, my ex, and how she was furious with what her mother said. She then asked if I agreed with her.

“You’re pretty pissed off, huh?”

“Damn right. What would you think if…..”, and she went on and on.

Finally I said, “Do you think you could forgive her for this ten years from now?”

No answer.

“After ten years has passed, could you finally forgive her for what she said?”

She answered slowly, “Well sure – after all that time. Sure.”

“Why don’t you just forgive her now, and get it over with. The incident will be the same, whether now or ten years from now.”

A long silence. Then she said quietly, “You know Dad, once every twenty years of so, you actually say something wise.”

We finished up, I paid for the food, and I walked her to her car. There we hugged and I told her I loved her, and she said, “I love you Daddy.”

I watched her drive off, and sauntered toward my car. Sadly. Perhaps I love her too much. Perhaps I want her to call more often. Perhaps I want more meals with her. Perhaps I want to sit with her and her friends and tell stories. Perhaps I would like her to move back home. Perhaps – perhaps things are just the way they are supposed to be. It’s a happy sad, I guess. But sad nonetheless.

[A few months later Elleana met an attorney online. After dating for a year and a half, Elleana and Michael married. A little over a year later they had a daughter, my granddaughter. Her name is Madison (Madi) Alexa. Below is a picture of her family including Catheryn, her step-daughter.]


  1. Wow. Really. Wow. It is not easy to capture something so elusive as love. You nailed it here. Love like this frightens me. I don't mind being frightened, I am just not used to it. I have faced violence and injury and come close to death, none of which have frightened me the way the intensity of my love for my children and grandchildren has. It is a fierce and wild thing, and awesome in the full sense of the word. You nailed it. Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing.


  2. What a beautiful tribute to your daughter, who is also quite beautiful, btw. I'm so glad it's not just me. When my daughter lived away from home for three months last year, it felt like a piece of me was missing. And although we spoke daily, sometimes twice, I still felt like I wasn't a part of her daily life and it hurt. She will be leaving (most probably for good) in August and all I want to do is beg her not to go. To live at home forever!! I'm dreading the day when her younger brother leaves me too.

    Is it really possible to love too much? I don't think so...


  3. Is it okay if I cried while reading this? Once because of the touching write about the purest kind of love (parent-child) and once more because you reminded me of my father, our times together, but also about how empty I feel now that he's gone. I'm trying so hard to convince myself that I am okay.

    Your daughter is lucky to have you in her life.

    Also, I have learned something amazing from you just now, something that I truly needed.
    “Forgive now, and get it over with. The incident will be the same, whether now or ten years from now.”

    Thank you, Jerry.

  4. Jerry you have to stop making us women cry! I try to be funny in my posts and I read this and it just tugs my heart.
    You gave her great advice, advice that I will pass on to Mo as we are in the depths of teenage hell and I'm just looking for the light on the other side. Maybe she will even listen and forgive her father and I for not being the perfect, cool parents she thought she was getting.
    Great post, you are able to put your love for her into words, that is so hard to do, but you do it beautifully.
    I need a tissue now.

  5. That is some good advice on forgiveness. I'm going to remember that and pass it along next time it's relevant. :)

  6. This is normally the part where I come out with something eloquent, witty, insightful, expounding, evocative or smart-aleck concerning what you wrote.

    But that ain't gonna happen today. I'm blown away. Speechless. Flabbergasted. Gobsmacked. You've been steadily proving your literary prowess, your talent for dialogue and narrative, and the sheer emotional beauty of your writing for some time now. This is a masterpiece, here.

    Okay, enough impressed gushing. What I should say is that (a) this is quite the paean to father-daughter and parent-child relationships; (b) a delightful and heartwarming story; and (c) a darn inspiring bit of scribbling. Well done, sir, as always.

    Good luck trying to follow THIS act, buster.

  7. Jerry, thank you for your kind words on my blog. Yes, another avid reader! :)
    I would like very much to follow your blog. Would you follow mine?
    I love what you have written about your daughter above. I am a daddy's girl myself. And I love seeing fathers writing about their daughters. It gives me the other side of the coin.

  8. awww I love family stories. Thank you for commenting on my blog and your grandaughters middle name is my daughters name ;)

    Makes me a little sad to know my daughter will grow up and I won't see her everyday at my kitchen table :(

  9. I am a first-time visitor, sent your way through a link at paulz blog. Your memoir about dinner with your grown daughter is very affecting. I, too, have a grown daughter, two in fact, stepdaughters from my wife's first marriage. What reading your piece shook loose in me were happy memories of the early days of my marriage, when I would take my younger stepdaughter off for tap-dance lessons, then to a pizzeria. I can still see her across the table, eleven, her face still shiny from all that clattering in a room full of showbiz wannabes. Today, I love and respect this person enormously. Wife, mother, thinking adult and all the rest of it. But every meal is now taken at a table with others, and the concerns of adult life so occupy my stepdaughter that I can't help longing for flying feet, followed by private confabs over pepperoni pizza.

  10. What a lovely, heartfelt story Jerry! I love hearing your feelings and thoughts from the dad's helps me to understand my own dad better.

    Her/your family is just lovely! I do hope you get to see more of them in the sounds like you two have a very, very special bond.

  11. Well said...glad to meet all your very strict criteria! :) I am hopeful we learn a lot from each other.

  12. Thankyou for sharing your daughter's story. They look a lovely happy family.

  13. That was a great post, Jerry. I'm going to go find my little monkeys and give them an extra hug.

  14. What a lovely post. I miss my dad so much, we talk on the phone but only get to see each other twice a year and never just the two of us. You and your daughter are lucky to have had such a relationship.

  15. You're a wonderful writer, and a this is a very moving post.

    Incidentally, I have a two-year-old named Eliana. Her name came into my mind out of the blue when I was about two months pregnant with her.

    I also have two teenage daughters and a son who will officially become a teenager at the end of this month, so, all I can say, is - I hear ya.

  16. This piece I love. As a mom I get it. I love your supportive manner with your daughter. I love your advice. To have a funny caring dad would be such a gift. Lucky girl. Her parenting skills must certainly reflect your modeling and love. Great moving writing. I was sucked in and did not want to let go. Kudos. Joan Tucker

  17. This story remains me so much my school days and all my friends can't wait to come and visit my house to hear and enjoy to my grandmother, she always had food prepared for us and wonderful stories to share. Since I met you the first thing I noticed was that connection that you and Elleana had and still have, she reflected that father/daughter I lived with my Dad and eventually you become his replacement hehehe. Keep writing more and more. Love to read and catch up what I miss. <3 you.

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