So, you want to date my daughter?

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you probably already know that I am a father.  I have five children, ranging in ages from 25 (as of yesterday) to 14 (turning 15 in December of this year).  Two girls bracket three boys, and while they are far from done, I have to admit that being a dad to these wonderful young people has been the most amazing opportunity of my life.  They are fun, funny, gracious, fiesty, energetic, thoughtful, frustrating, loving, supportive, challenging, and so many other things!  I cannot imagine my life without them in it, each and every one of them.
Right now, I am in that place where my daughter is becoming an independent young woman.  And she is dating young men.  And I’m trying to learn how to be cool with all of this, to be calm and accepting and trusting.
And I’m afraid I’m not doing a very good job.
Take yesterday.  My daughter brought over the young man she is dating.  On her birthday.  Wow.  It was a big deal for me, much bigger than I thought it was going to be.
The whole family spent the afternoon playing some games and walking around.  Then we prepared and had a nice dinner, built a fire in the back yard, and did the cake and presents thing that is obligatory for birthdays.  And through it all, I was a little stand-offish.
Part of it probably came from not feeling well.  I had some kind of a stomach bug that was really playing havoc with me, and the week had been particularly exhausting, so I really could have used some down time.
But another part of it probably came from my realizing that I may not have many more of these events  where I am the primary man in my daughter’s life.  And that has made me a little more pensive, a little more thoughtful.
When my daughter was younger, and when boys would come by the house to take her out, I made sure to give my version of the “Dad speech.”  Somewhere I may document that later (I think the one I give is a good one!) but I have to admit, I had no desire to go through that yesterday.
Unfortunately, as a result, I didn’t say much at all.
I listened.  I watched.  I tried to be aware.
It was very hard, harder than I thought it would be.  And like I said, I don’t think I did a very good job.
I suspect we’ll be seeing more of this young man.  And it is possible that we may see other young men in the future.  With that in mind, I want to put down a couple of ideas that have been running around my head that a young man ought to know.
If you are going to date my daughter you have to know that we both feel affection for her.  However, while the affection you may feel for her is new and fresh, the affection I feel for her is old and deep and powerful beyond anything you know. As you may desire to protect her and make her happy, I feel the same things only ten times over, maybe more.  As you are fascinated by her laugh and smile, I remember them growing from year to year, becoming more and more individualized and filled with layers of subtlety and insight.
If you are going to date my daughter you should know that I am watching you.  I am watching not just how you treat her, but how you treat others.  How you treat her brothers and sisters.  How you treat her mother.  I am watching to better understand you, to get a sense of how you handle new situations and new people.  My daughter may be familiar with these things, but I’m not.  And I need to know more about you than a short first impression might offer.
If you are going to date my daughter you should know that I am trying to figure out how to balance the two people she is.  When I see her, I see my little girl who needed me to sing her to sleep and chase away the monsters in her closet at the same time that I see a young, confident woman getting ready to make her place in the world.  Seeing her this way makes me more wary, more cautious, and perhaps a little harder to get to know.  After all, you only see one part of who she is.
If you are going to date my daughter you should probably remember that it’s really hard for a daddy to let go of a daughter.  There are all kinds of reasons why.  Some of them I have shared here.  Some I probably won’t ever share.  But it’s hard.  So please forgive me if it takes me a little longer to let go than you might think it should.  You aren’t a daddy yet.
But one day, you just might be.
And then, you’ll understand what it has meant for me to watch you date my daughter.
Go forth and conquer.

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