The rain has picked up and lightning flashes across the darkening sky forming momentary webs of light that stretch across the expanse of the Indiana sky above us. Our van shakes as we zoom down the expressway. With each thunder clap my 14-year-old daughter jumps in the passenger seat. Eventually she reaches across the center space between my seat and hers, and clutches my hand. She squeezes tightly. Even at 14. She’s been running to my lap or reaching for my hand during storms or scary movies since she learned to walk.
My other daughter sits behind me quietly thumbing through Instagram. I breathe in deeply as I navigate through the storm surrounding us. I wouldn’t trade this for the world, I think to myself. We’re on our way to an annual father-daughter weekend at a camp just south of our hometown of Indianapolis. This is our first year, and many friends of ours will be there, too. Once we exit the expressway, we begin to wind through a series of country roads until the camp entrance appears in a clearing, just around a bend.
My daughters both squeal with excitement. I know they’re excited to be with their friends, but my excitement is for precious time with my babies. It’s been a few years since we’ve been able to spend a weekend away together. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while now.
My expectations were exceeded beyond what I could have imagined. As I think back to the weekend, my heart is full. As I walk through the house, in the days that follow our trip, I see reminders here and there of the amazing weekend we had together. A purple bandana signifying the team we were on. The tie-dye shirts we made together during craft hour. I sit down in my office with my notebook flopped open to a page I used during the weekend to take notes and jot down thoughts. I did something that weekend that I’ve never done before — I wrote down the things I learned. Here they are in no particular order …
1. MY DAUGHTERS ARE AWESOME, BEAUTIFUL, STRONG YOUNG WOMEN.
I’ve always known this. And, I’ve always believed this. But after this weekend, even during, I had that thought — these two human beings are awesome. They have hearts of gold. They are beautiful. They are strong young women, becoming strong grownup women. I leaned in a little more to hear their hearts, listen to their thoughts on the world. I paid attention to their laughter and what awakens their spirit.
2. MY DAUGHTERS ARE LEADERS WHO ALREADY HAVE INFLUENCE.
This is not one of those, “Look out world, because some day,” perspectives. This is a full-blown, “Look out world, because right now!” These two are leaders. They have influence. It was humbling to watch. When we arrived, several other girls who had already arrived to the camp came running for them, as teenage girls do (even though they saw one another a few hours earlier). I later realized why the other girls ran for my girls when we walked in. They are respected as leaders. They are looked to for perspective on things.
While we kayaked, zip-lined, made crafts, took walks, sat around a campfire, and attended a sock-hop dance all ’50s-style, I watched them take the lead among their peers and even among the other fathers gathered. It was a beautiful sight to see.
The best thing I can do as their father is continue to pour into them as leaders. They are going to turn this world upside down.
The best thing I can do as their father is continue to pour into them as leaders.
3. I’M GETTING OLD, SO I NEED TO CHERISH EVERY MOMENT I HAVE WITH THEM.
Seriously, whoever manufactures camp mattresses needs to be fired. If it’s a corporation, shut it down! This 40-year-old back of mine paid a dear price. And don’t get me started on the “recreational” water activities. There was no recreating about it. After an hour-long kayaking trip around the lake, I thought my arms were going to fall off. Heck, I was so numb, they could have and I wouldn’t have known it.
But at the same time as my aging body made its presence fully known to my brain, my heart spoke up. It reminded me that I have very little time left. Seriously, I’m well aware of the clock. They are both freshmen in high school. They were toddlers yesterday. I’m in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs. The two-minute warning just sounded. I’ll blink and be moving them into their dorm at college. I’ll blink twice and it will be their wedding day. I don’t want to miss a single moment of these next few years. They’re all I have left.
4. I NEED TO TURN THE WORLD OFF WAY MORE THAN I DO.
I spent an entire weekend NOT checking my phone, scrolling through Facebook, answering emails, or posting pictures on Instagram (other than those of the weekend with my girls). You know what I realized? This is refreshing to my soul. I run an online business so it’s a must throughout the week. But the uninterrupted time with my girls was worth more than anything money could buy. I connected with them as their father. Clients may forget my name and I theirs. A flashy Facebook campaign or video series will come and go in time, but this precious time with my babies will remain in my memory and theirs forever.
5. BEING A DAD TO DAUGHTERS IS ONE OF THE GREATEST GIFTS IN LIFE.
I love all of my kids equally, but there’s something special between a father and his daughters. I realized how privileged I am while down at the camp with my girls. It’s not something I really forget but the reminder is needed. Life gets so crazy so often that we forget about the things that matter most. We forget how blessed we are and what we have right in front of us. Being a dad to all four of my daughters (I have two who are grown up) is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given.
I said it already, but I’ll say it again: I don’t want to miss one single moment with my girls. I don’t want to blink and suddenly their rooms are empty while they take on the world. I can’t wait to see what that day looks like … someday. For now though, I’m savoring every single breath I have with them.
Are you raising daughters? What have you learned from them? Share your story with us in the comment section below.
[Editor’s Note- This post originally appeared in Mike’s column on Disney’s Babble.com]