Listening to My Daughter

For anyone who doesn’t already know, allow me to be abundantly clear: I’ve been blessed with an amazing pint-sized human being in my life, my right-on-the-brink-of-teen daughter. I’ve been particularly impressed with her mastery—and brevity!—with words, so, over the last decade, I’ve kept a list of some of the more remarkable things she’s said.

There were the cute ones, like when she asked me to take her to “Old McDonalds,” make her a “pasagna,” or do her a “flavor” and locate the missing “hummus stone” from the shower. Or that time she quipped, “It smells like a bad word in here.”

But it wasn’t all silly, not by a long shot. Even at the tender age of four or five, she was already doling out sage advice, in one case about the passage of time. Everything in the past, in her understanding, was simply “yesterday.” The future was “when we’re all dead” and the only two points in time that mattered to her were “right now” and “right now, right now,” if she needed to convey an increased sense of urgency.

Would that we all appreciated living in the moment the way her young mind once did!

Her observations on technology were also fascinating beyond compare, quite literally—since I never had access to anything as advanced as a child. When a geographically-distant relative called on FaceTime: “Thanks for coming all the way across the Internet to see us!”

Perhaps as a result of all this technology, she developed the uncanny ability to build mental models of how things work—and to draw correct, insightful parallels between complicated, invisible things. Her experience in baking led to an encounter during my dental checkup. After explaining how tartar grows into plaque, my hygienist was blown away when she said, “Right, just like yeast.”

Her one-line reviews of movies and music have always been entertaining, too. Thriller? “Overdone.” AC/DC’s Back in Black? “Intense.” Dark Side of the Moon? “The songs really get stuck in your head.” Bat Out of Hell? “Funny.” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? “Well they sure went to a lot of trouble just to skip school for a day.” Dirty Dancing? “Yay, a shirt.”

As she moved into her second decade of life, the youthful innocence of her commentary gave way to a more pointed, deliberate delivery of good-natured but still piercingly-funny sarcasm, certainly influenced by the full-frontal assault of music, movies, TV, and other media to which we are all constantly subjected. “Wednesday is the new Saturday,” she remarked after I took her swing dancing on a school night.

And on another fog-swamped drive from Marin County into San Francisco, “It’s such a beautiful day, but where did the bridge go, Daddy?”

From toddler to teen, this kid developed and honed her wit. I always listen for and appreciate her unique—and often profound—insights, both verbally and in the written word.

“Money can’t buy love or happiness,” I once told her, only to be outdone by her reply: “Yeah, but it can buy freedom.”

One day, this bird will likely find that freedom and leave the nest.

Until then, my duty as a father is to encourage her to find and exercise what freedoms she has while still a minor, starting with something she’s already mastered: the freedom to express herself, and to do so eloquently and beautifully.

I’ll be listening intently. Because I know this young woman has a lot more to say.