NATCHITOCHES, La., July 6, 2016 — I saw my daughter today in a swimsuit.
No big deal. I’ve seen her in swimsuits from the time half her bulk in the pool was swim diaper. As she grew, she went from little ball of swim diaper and flotation jacket to a gangly, scrawny thing in a one-piece that was always too wide if it was long enough. She started wearing two-piece swimsuits a couple of years ago, all pretty modest and age-appropriate. She looked like a mass of sticks bound together in bright fabric.
What I saw today was something different, and I didn’t like it one bit.
“Daddy, is it okay if Chrisy and I go out on the lake? It’s okay with her mom.”
“All right,” I answered, “but watch out for snakes and alligators, and don’t swim in the water because it’s warm and …”
“… and because of brain-eating amoebas,” she finished. “Don’t worry. Mom already told me.”
And that’s when I actually looked at her.
I spent more time in college and in grad school than I care to remember with girlfriends, friends who just happened to be girls, and friends who needed company while their girlfriends shopped for swimsuits. They could never find the right one. One young woman came out of the dressing room and asked, “Does this make my rear look big?” I looked at her boyfriend and thought, “Lord, have mercy” and kept my mouth shut. He gulped. They broke up days later.
Until today, I never really understood this female obsession with the right swimsuit. And then I saw my daughter in the perfect swimsuit.
I’ve always thought of her as a pretty, even a very pretty little girl. A little girl. That swimsuit snapped her into focus and slapped me on the side of the head. Today I saw a heart-stoppingly beautiful young woman, and I was terrified.
She’s too young to be beautiful, and too naïve. She’s too trusting, and too careless. Boys will see her as a conquest or a fashion accessory. In a shallow world, she’ll find popularity for all the wrong reasons, and she’s not mature enough yet to understand the right ones.
And I can’t be there all the time to remind her of who she is and to protect her from predators who will want her to forget.
I was suddenly afraid that I haven’t taught her all she needs to know; I haven’t been a good enough father and shown her every day what a man and husband and father should be. I thought I had more time, and suddenly time is running out.
“Be careful,” I said as they walked out, wondering where my little girl had gone and when this stunning young woman had moved in.
They came home an hour later, and showered and changed, and in her skinny jeans and T-shirt and her hair in a ponytail, my little girl was back. But now I know she can vanish in an instant, and some day I won’t get her back.
I planned not to be that dad, the dad who’s cleaning a gun when his daughter’s date shows up or who stares at the new boyfriend like a serial killer looking at his next kill. No intimidation games, no aggressive confrontation, just a model of calm reason. I was going to be the enlightened, amiable dad who trusted his daughter’s judgment and her taste in boyfriends.
But that dad just died at the hands of serial-killer dad, and good riddance.
I talked to my wife when she got home. “That swimsuit looks really good on Catherine.”
She laughed. “I noticed. I got it for her when we went to Austin. I guess you hadn’t seen it yet.”
She looked a little wistful. “It’s the perfect swimsuit for her.”
“I know. I’m going to burn it tonight. See if you can’t find her something that makes her bottom look fat, okay? And I think I’m low on shotgun shells.”
It’s time to look for a job in Greenland.