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Friday, December 31, 2010

Letter to my Daughter

Today is our only (and favorite!) daughter's birthday. The following is the text of a letter I wrote to her ten years ago, soon after she was engaged:

Dear Joanna,
    It was no surprise when your special friend Chad took your mother and me aside and asked if he could marry you. Not that he needed our permission. You’re both graduated, gainfully employed and on your own. But we loved it.
    And we love Chad. For one thing, we think he’s shown excellent taste in his choice of a mate. “I just wanted your blessing,” he told us. “I love her very much--she makes me so happy.”
    We understand. For 24 years you’ve been making all of us happy.
    I’ll never forget the moment you were born. Without voicing that immediate infant cry, you seemed to want to first size up the situation and decide what to do next. Needless to say, it was love at first sight for your parents and your two admiring brothers. Then in no time you found plenty to do, entertaining us in an animated, non-stop fashion that kept us in stitches. But you also relished being held, read to, cuddled. I sorely miss my baby girl.
    Not that you ever liked being considered the “baby” in the family. Even as a preschooler, you seldom admitted being afraid. When you heard creepy nighttime noises or saw strange shadows outside your window, you would quietly enter our bedroom and say, “I can’t sleep.” We knew what you meant. I still remember one warm night taking you out on our front steps, holding you, and talking with you about the bush that made scary shadows and about other things that ‘go bump in the night,’ trying to help you feel more secure and safe.
    And how well we remember your many drawings and dramas and stories. To us they seemed wonderful, like you. You made us happy, too, with your hard-won achievements in school, your eagerness to please us at home. If anything, I’m afraid you kept too much inside, may not have felt free enough to raise your questions or express your frustrations. 
    I especially recall the summer you were fourteen and looking for a way to earn some spending money. With a little encouragement (and trepidation) on our part you made granola and baked things--pies, cookies and homemade bread--to sell at the Farmers Market two mornings a week. You didn’t get rich, but gained some great experience.
    Then there was your anxious call when you had a driving accident at an intersection in town a few years later, one that totaled the family car. It wasn’t your fault, but you were worried sick over the damage to our vehicle. Believe me, all we could think was how grateful we were to have you alive and unharmed.
    The memories keep coming. Your summer mission trip to Chicago, your sophomore college year in Ecuador, your recent two years of voluntary service with BorderLinks, shuttling back and forth between Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico. Today you’re putting your experiences to work as a migrant services worker in Rochester, New York, and preparing to marry your Chad, a first year resident at nearby Strong Memorial Hospital. 
    Joanna, your name means “Jehovah is gracious.” Your life has been a wonderful gift indeed, more than we ever deserved. Now, so soon, must we really give you away?
    With Tevya at the time of his daughter’s wedding to Motel (in “Fiddler on the Roof”) we muse,

    "Is this the little girl I carried?
    Is this the little boy at play?
    I don’t remember growing older. When did they?
    Sunrise, Sunset... swiftly fly the years...
    Laden with happiness and tears."


    With all our love (and a few tears),

    Dad c. 2000
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