Courtesy Susannah B. Lewis
Everything changed when I was 11.
When I was 11, I had a whiny southern twang that was much more annoying than the whiny southern twang that I am blessed with today.
When I was 11, I was short and round, sans a waistline. I had unruly hair and thick bangs that curled under in the exact shape of a large-barrel curling iron.
When I was 11, I was going through a terribly awkward and ugly phase, and I watched the popular, pretty girls whisper and snicker as I walked past them in the middle school hall.
When I was 11, I was sure that I’d be loud and annoying and ugly and awkward for the rest of my life.
When I was 11, my awkward bangs and chubby face were the last thing my father saw. My whiny, southern-twangy voice was the last thing my father heard.
Years after he passed away, I began to wish he were there to see the person I was becoming.
I wished he had been there to see the awkwardness fade and the weight fall off and my height increase by 12 to 14 inches by the time I was 13.
I wished he had been there to see that those stupid bangs grew and I traded the curling iron for a straightening iron.
I wished he had been there to know that I eventually killed the pretty, mean bullies with kindness and then might or might not have stolen their boyfriends.
I wished he had been there to know that I finally got the hang of the piano and that I stuck with the writing hobby that I loved so much as a child.
I wished he had been there to hear that my voice lost some of its pitchiness and whiny twang.
I wished he had been there to see that I fell in love with a good kid who reminds me of him—tall and skinny with a love of shooting pool, singing Bob Seger, and water-skiing barefoot.
And now I wish he were here to see these beautiful children that I bore and named after him.
If my dad were alive today, I know we would do awesome things together. He was hilarious, creative, and talented. I’m pretty sure we’d do something epic and probably be the most famous father-daughter duo since Billy Ray and Miley Cyrus. (For the record, my father never had a mullet, and although he had a heart attack, it wasn’t due to anything being achy or breaky. Also, I’m way cooler than Hannah Montana.)
I wish that my face, now without the stupid bangs, and my voice, now without the whiny discontentment, were the last things he had seen and heard. The present me, not that embarrassing kid I was 20 years ago.
I’ve thought this way for years: If only he could see me now, he’d be proud.
I’ve been sure he worried that I would always be the subject of ridicule, with my round body and round hair.
This is exactly what I thought… until I had my own children.
My daughter is six. When she looks back at her first-grade photo, she will probably grimace at the missing teeth, the baby curls that frame her face, her chubby cheeks.
And when I look back at this photo, I will think her smile is precious and her curls are beautiful. Her gorgeous face will take my breath away.
So here is my new thought: On my father’s last day on this earth, as that fat little girl hovered over him, with her fluffy, unruly hair and her annoying voice, he didn’t see a disappointment. He saw his daughter. His perfect daughter. And he was proud.