Today’s the big day, as I head in shortly for the six-hour operation to have half of my stomach removed. It could have happened a couple of weeks ago except that an issue of vital concern preempted it – the wedding of my daughter Kimberly. I’d asked the surgeons if we could postpone the procedure so that I could be there for the big day. They graciously relented and it became one of the great events of my life.
In so many ways it’s doubtful that a father ever stands as tall in accomplishment as the occasion when he walks his daughter down the aisle. There’s simply little else to compare with that moment. She was radiant, excited, and absolutely wanting to get on with married life, as you would expect.
Speaking during the reception, I reminded those attending of how Michelangelo spent hours attempting to perceive the image in the blocks of marble that eventually formed part of his magnificent legacy. Other sculptors of the day attempted to impose their will, their respective vision, on the material, but Michelangelo instead believed that there was a vibrant form inside waiting to get out and he carefully spent months, years even, unleashing it. As I saw Kim that day I realized that both her mother and I had approached her in a similar fashion – an awesome life waiting to discover its own potential. As I took her arm to proceed down the aisle, I recalled Anne Frank’s own observation from her moving diary: “Parents can only give good advice or put their child on the right path, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”
I was there the moment Kimberly was born, but on her wedding day she had burst out of her confines and become a remarkable presence and a gift to life. She had done it – took the best that we, and others, had to offer, but then developed them herself into a life that was fully ready to take on the future in goodness, compassion and zeal. What can you say as a father when you stand facing your daughter on her wedding day and realize that she has moved past you in potential? I was humbled in her presence – totally. Life had worked as it should. She was ready for her future; my past had been fulfilled.
We gave her love, but her thoughts were her own. We provided shelter but not her personality. She picked her marvelous mate, not us. She selected her future and we were inspired by her choices. When I kissed her and guided her to the hand of mate, Drew, I realized again that in some ways she was never fully our daughter. She was Life guaranteeing its own good future.
In so many ways Kimberly had accomplished the task life had given to her – it wasn’t just about parents producing children, but children producing adults. I had matured through her and had benefited through her growth. Fatherhood had become a long, slow letting go that started at the moment of her birth. But I received a fully grown woman as a consolation; my daughter had become my friend. My heart was somehow beating outside of my own body, inside the life of a daughter who will far outlast me.
Let me be truthful. I loved walking her down the aisle, just as I did speaking during the ceremony and the reception, but the moment I waited for more than anything else was the chance to dance with her – just the two of us – at the reception. In preparation, I had selected “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder. It was the only song that made any sense after I realized what she had become. The moment the first strains began she moved on the floor towards me and the rest was magic. “I love you so much, Kim,” were the only words I said – the rest was gloriously lost in the rhythm of life. To watch us dance was to hear our hearts speak.
And then the moment of wonder occurred when all seven of my kids came up on the floor and we danced together. The circle of life was not only complete; it was full – and moving. When the three grandkids came up and joined us, I couldn’t help but wonder, What are the chances of this – together with them all, dancing as one? My dancing partners were my promissory note to life, reminding me that, for a time, I lived and I mattered. It was all as God intended; I moved within my own narrative, fulfilled.
You’ll see some pictures at the bottom of this post that somewhat tell the tale of that dance of generations. I don’t mean to impose them on you, and there’s no need for you to view them if you’re not interested. But it was one of those magic moments that occasionally surprise us in life and these photos tell that story. They will be what flood my thoughts as I move into the operating room. By thankfully giving me that weekend, the surgeons guaranteed a more fulfilled patient. The memories will sustain my spirit and be there to greet me when I awake. I danced with all my kids and my grandkids just prior to a new challenge set before me. Can there be any greater inspiration? Can God be any kinder?