I’ve been lucky to know many kinds of love. Love from my family. Romantic love. Platonic love. I even feel a certain kind of love from the guys on my bowling team.
It’s nice to know love.
But there’s one love I know that is unlike any other. It’s the love I know through my daughter. And it’s the only love that makes me gasp.
My inaugural gasp — because of her — came the day after she was born. It happened as I was looking through the viewing window in the hospital nursery. I was a big-eyed dad scanning the room for the one that was his. “Not mine,” I said to myself as my eyes slowly moved right-to-left. “That’s not mine, either.” Then I saw a clear, plastic bassinet with a sleeping, curly-haired little girl swaddled in pink. The card above her head shared my last name. Handwritten in big, capital letters.
And I gasped.
Girls were a foreign language to me. I was raised in a family of boys. All boys and nothing but boys. I knew about boy clothes. I knew about boys’ games. I knew the joy of farting with a group of 8-year-olds and building a clubhouse in the field behind our house. And although I wasn’t an athletic little guy, I did know the world of backyard football, reenacting All-Star wrestling matches, and summer Wiffle ball tournaments played late into warm summer nights.
My childhood world was a fraternity house gone adolescent — compounded by the death of my mom when I was 14. And while I knew love in abundance, I didn’t know a thing about girls. So that gasp, as I stared through the viewing window of the hospital nursery, represented a spectrum of ricocheting emotions — excitement, fear, doubt, uncertainty, elation. And mostly, awe. Were I to ever find myself standing at the start line of the galaxy, gazing out into the vast, endless unknown ahead of me, I think I’d have the exact, same gasp.
The prospect of potential joy and the horror of blundering my way into this perfectly wrapped pink package’s life scared the daddy pants off of me.
That first gasp was just the beginning.
My most recent gasp took place at our local hair salon. Perhaps the people who work there are accustomed to gasping. Gasps over botched haircuts. Gasps over spectacularly coiffed hair. They must hear gasps all the time. My gasp, however, was for something quite different.
The occasion was prom. And my daughter asked me to stop by during her hair appointment to check out her up-do. Whatever that is. So, I arrived about 15 minutes after her appointment time and was told by the teenage girl at the front desk to feel free to meander into the salon to find my daughter.
Once again I was the dad scanning a room looking for a little girl.
“Dad,” I heard from her familiar voice. “Dad, I’m right behind you.”
I turned and saw my daughter’s brilliant eyes looking into a mirror. Her hair was already swirling up and around — flowing and dangling and dancing. The familiar ponytail I saw most days was gone.
And all I could do was gasp.
It was a “blink of an eye” moment. Parents are vulnerable to them. Perhaps we all are — especially with the people we love most. They are moments where time seems to be poured into a blender and every single joy-filled memory with that person is morphed into the moment. We stand there. Amazed. Toasty warm. And a teeny bit sad. Because we’re reminded not only how fast time moves, but by how rich our life is because of this one person.
18 years had zoomed by since I stood gazing at this unfamiliar object in the hospital nursery. That little seven-pound bundle grew up. Nicely. And, she’s actually proven to be quite low-maintenance. She’s adventurous. She’s funny. She’s loyal. She’s strong. She’s resilient. Most of all, she’s mine.
It’s crazy, isn’t it? 18 years ago, this child had me gasping because I couldn’t imagine my life with her.
Now, I gasp because I can’t imagine my life without her.