It’s two days since my daughter’s 13th birthday, and I’m still struggling with this blog. I’ve started it twice - got a good ways into it twice - and still I have nothing. I’ve been working on an “Open Letter to My Daughter on the Occasion of her 13th Birthday”, but it’s all sounded so manufactured - like I’m just using her special day to vent a few things that have been on my mind. Weak…
So, instead, I’m going to just start writing this without a plan, and see where things go. It’s sort of like when I write a chapter in a book. I have an idea where I’m beginning, an idea where I want to end up, but really no clue what’s going to happen in between. It’s like Stephen King writes, “Because it makes me happy when the words fall together and the picture comes and the make-believe people do things that delight me.” When I write, I’ve got some influence on the story, but it’s really the characters themselves - when I lean my head back and close my eyes and put my fingers on auto-pilot - who create the action and speak the dialogue.
That’s a little like parenting, I think. I’ve got some influence on this young woman - so much less than I had when she was younger, but still some influence, nevertheless. As a father, it’s my job to provide her with controlled environments in which she can be herself, express her thoughts, make her mistakes, learn about truth, learn about lies, and develop her personality, her humor, her character, her opinions, her faith. I believe her mother and I have given her a good starting point for this chapter of her life - certainly not perfect, but solid. We’ve also tried to lay out a path toward the goal of what we pray at the end of this life chapter will be a woman who loves God, loves her family, and is confident in herself and who God has made her to be. That’s the plan…
There are those times when I write and I get to the end of a chapter and it resolves itself just how I had planned. Want to know how often that happens?
More typically, things twist. Characters begin to do things and say things that I never planned. Sometimes that’s good - Scott Ross was originally intended to be just a throw-away character in the first chapter of Monday Night Jihad. Somehow he popped back up a few chapters later, and eventually became my favorite character of the series. Riley Covington’s the guy I’d want to go hear give an inspirational message; Scott Ross is the guy I'd want to spend an evening with on the back porch with a six-pack of Diet Code Reds.
Sometimes, however, the twists are not so good - I never meant for Jim Hicks to die. I loved Jim, then he got shot, and I cried when he died. (I realize for those of you who haven’t read the books, you’re thinking either “Who?”, “Why do I care?”, and/or “Spoiler Alert”. Sorry for so much “Inside Riley” stuff; it’s just where my mind is taking me.)
Honestly, it’s the twists that frighten me - those times that I don’t have control of my daughter; when she is out expressing her thoughts and making her mistakes and learning to discern who the good people are and who are the ones to run away from. I could keep a tight grip on her, only let her go the directions I think she should go, try to force my thoughts into her head, make all the tough decisions for her, but then my story would become her story. I would write her life. That doesn’t work in novels, and that doesn’t work in 13-year-old girls.
So, what do I do? I give her the best framework I can. I teach her when I get the chance. I try to set an example of what a godly person looks like. I listen to her. I take every opportunity I can to tell her how proud I am of her. And I love her unconditionally, no matter what, through thick and thin, forever and ever, amen.
And then I sit back and close my eyes and let the story unfold. However, this time when my eyes are closed, I won’t be watching the action on my little internal TV screens with my fingers skittering across the keyboard. I’ll be praying. Because there is no more important thing I can do as a father than pray for my daughter - day after day, without fail. More than giving her a framework, more than setting an example, more than telling her “I’m proud of you” or “I love you” or “You’re the funniest thing since sliced snot” (and she is that - dang, that girl can crack me up!), I need to be daily bringing this young woman before God.
You see, there are so few times these days that I get to actually be with her, and those times will only be getting less. However, God will always be with her, giving her a framework, teaching her, setting an example of a godly, sacrificial life in the person of Christ, listening to her, telling her how proud He is of her, and loving her unconditionally, no matter what, through thick and thin, forever and ever, amen.
And He’ll do all those things so much better than her old man ever could.
So, to rephrase Stephen King, “It makes me happy when the story comes together and the growth comes and my daughter does things that delight me.” And she does…all the time.