A dad’s touching retrospective: By any other name, she’s still my little girl
posted by: Amber Johnson
The door to the preschool classroom swung open and the kids stampeded out, my 3-year-old daughter Maggie leading the way under the warm spring California sun.
She spotted me — a dad trying to be cool, surrounded by a group of moms — and skittered across the playground, stood with her feet on mine and hugged my knees, then tilted her head back, looked straight up at me and bellowed these words:
“Whoa, Dad! You have hair in your nose!”
You don’t forget a day like that.
We recently held each other again in Baltimore, where she lives, and we swayed to a Lee Ann Womack song called “I Hope You Dance,” and a few lines into the song she looked up at me again and she said this: “Thanks, Dad. For everything.”
And she squeezed my hand and a tear ran from her eye and I cried too, and the music played on. It was Maggie’s wedding. And if the marriage of your daughter doesn’t make your heart sing to the heavens and ache at the same time, well, you should get it checked.
Twenty-eight years went by, a blur really, with memories sprinkled through the fog like distant stars. She was always the brightest of all the stars, taking my soul on the day she was born. Changing it forever.
She laughed at my silliness and my bad jokes when I walked her to preschool and back home again, five days a week for a year. When it was time for kindergarten I surveyed the Los Angeles public schools and, with all due respect, beat a path to a nearby private Catholic school.
I was told there was a long waiting list. Then the nun who ran the school said they were looking for a volunteer boys’ gym teacher. I told her she had the right guy — if that little princess over there with the wild blonde hair could somehow get to the top of the waiting list. The nun smiled. A month later, the new St. Bernardine of Siena boys’ gym teacher and its newest kindergarten student reported for duty.
I thought I did it to give Maggie the best education. Now I look back and think I probably did it just to stay close to her. To watch her run across another playground. To see her smile. To hear her laugh.
Later, in Colorado, we walked along rivers and lakes, fly fishing and talking. And then one day, I dropped her off at Arizona State University, got back into my truck, and cried for 200 miles.
She ended up graduating from the University of Colorado in Boulder and in 2007 took a job at the zoo in Baltimore. A few years later, while playing on a softball team, she met a really nice guy named Morgan Lowman.
Last Saturday, with a soft snow falling in the quiet Maryland woods, she stood with Morgan and exchanged rings and later we danced and I was happy and oh so terribly sad because I knew that, for the most part, my walks with Maggie had come to an end.
They left two days later for a honeymoon, and from the plane my little girl sent a text message to me and my wife and a circle of friends.
“We’re off to Thailand! Eeee! I had such an amazing time this weekend!” it read, and just when I thought my heart might survive, she closed with this:
Love you all,
I hope she knows that by any name, she will take my love wherever she wanders.