To His Teenage Daughter, It’s a Normal Drive Home. To Him, It’s a Memory He’ll Cherish Forever.

If you could catch fatherhood in a bottle, it would be filled with moments like these.

01_daughter_normal_drive_home_memory_cherish_The Voorhes for Reader's Digest

She’s 14 now, a turbulent age. Everyone warned us. There will be times when she’s still your little girl, they said. And there will be other times when she lashes out with such fury, you will wonder where everything went wrong. Everyone warned us, and we believed them. We had planning sessions about the future, talks about patience and openness and firmness when needed.

We were ready.

We weren’t ready.

Elite athletes will tell you that in their first professional game, everything moves so impossibly fast that there is no possible way to prepare for the speed and fury and violence of it all.

We were ready.

We weren’t ready.

She gets into the car. It is nighttime, and I’m picking her up from an activity, and she is happy. She used to always be happy. Now it’s a 50-50 proposition. She shows me a picture she wants to post on Instagram of her and a friend. She asks if it’s OK. I tell her it’s OK. I don’t know if it’s OK; I’m trying hard to keep up with the rules. She is happy.

We sit in the car, and we are stuck at a red light because of the indecision of the car in front of us. I growl at this car. She laughs and growls too. I remember when she was a baby and would make these funny growling sounds. We once took her to a spring-training baseball game in Florida. It was unseasonably cold, and we had her bundled up in this baby blanket. Every now and again from the blanket there would be a loud “Rahhhhrrrrrrr,” and people in the few rows in front of us would look back to see who or what was making that sound.

The light turns green. We talk about nothing. It is pleasing for a moment not to be asking her about school or homework or friends, and pleasing for her for a moment not to be talking about any of it. The air is cool and perfect, and the windows are cracked; “Video Killed the Radio Star” plays on the radio. “I like this song,” she says. I tell her that years ago, I made lists with my friends Tommy and Chuck of our favorite hundred songs, and this was on it.

“Would it be now?” she asks.

She’s in a curious mood. She used to be curious all the time. “Tell me a story of when you were a little boy,” she’d say. She does not say that much now. Curiosity for a teen is a sign of vulnerability, a too-eager admission that there are things she doesn’t know. I remember that feeling. She yells sometimes, “I don’t need your help!” I remember that. She yells, “Get away from me! You don’t understand!” I remember that. She yells, “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to fail anyway.” I remember that most of all.

She has little interest in remembering. For her, the clock moves forward, and she wants to look forward—there’s so much out there. In a year, she will be in high school. In two years, she will be able to drive. In three years, she will start looking hard at colleges. In four years, she will be a senior in high school. Forward. Always forward.

And I look back. Always back. I am carrying her, her tiny head on my shoulder, and I’m singing “Here Comes the Sun,” trying to get her to fall asleep. I am walking with her through the gift shop at Harry Potter World as she goes back and forth between wanting a stuffed owl or a Gryffindor bag. I am helping her with her math homework when the problems were easy enough that I could figure the answers in my head. I am watching The Princess Bride with her for the first time, and I hear her say in her squeaky voice, “Have fun storming the castle!”

“Hey, Dad,” she asks, “can I have your phone? Can I play some music?”

“Sure,” I tell her. She punches a few buttons, the song begins, and immediately I know. It’s her favorite song.

I once knew a girl

In the years of my youth

With eyes like the summer

All beauty and truth

In the morning I fled

Left a note and it read

Someday. You will. Be loved.

I introduced her to it a while ago. “What kind of music would I like?” she had asked. “Why don’t we try some Death Cab for Cutie?” I had said. She was smitten.

She is smitten now. She sings along to every word. I do too.

You may feel alone when you’re falling asleep

And every time tears roll down your cheeks

But I know your heart belongs to someone you’ve yet to meet.

Someday. You will. Be loved.

She looks up at me and smiles. Her teeth are straight; the braces are gone. She leans closer and says, “Don’t you love this song, Daddy?”

I hear her say “Daddy” and think back to a time when she raced over to me at the airport after I returned from a trip, hugged me, and wouldn’t let go. She’s 14, a turbulent age. Tomorrow, she may look right through me. But now, in the coolness of the evening, she smiles at me and holds my hand, and we sing along with Death Cab for Cutie. We are off-key. We are off-key together.

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