My daughter has wearied of the dating game. At 33, she seeks relief from the fruitless stream of interested young men who request time and attention and yet offer not the soulful companionship she craves. Her heart wants reciprocation — humor, adventure and affection. I imagine Penelope and her suitors — non-starters.
I am the father who laughed and tickled and read her bedtime stories; removed the training wheels on her two-wheeler, when the time came; helped her find her buoyancy in the swimming pool; mentored her writing; championed her international adventures.
And I am now sidelined, though still coaching her ride.
“How about a time-saving application?” I mused. Something that would simultaneously raise the bar and move the starting line by dispensing with a few preliminary questions.
“Dear hopeful young man: I understand you wish to pass time with my daughter. Fantastic! Did she inform you of the application process? Perhaps not. But due to the paucity (know that word?) of men who have the soul-size, vocabulary, and grammar qualifications on a level with my baby girl, it has come to this. Use ink. Extra points for fountain pen.”
Reverse engineering anything is so difficult, working backward from desirable outcome to the questions that will achieve it. The answer is: Mr. Right. What’s the question? There could be so many. How about a flow chart? The engineering mind isn’t helpful.
In love, so much is simple gestalt and ineffable granularity.
And on what exactly is compatibility based? Her mother and I just celebrated 41 years together and were such babies when we got hitched, totally out of synch with our the typical timing of our generation in marriage and childbearing. It seemed so effortless. We never experienced the dating scene or practice partnerships. We clicked. Sure, it means, in many ways, we’ve grown up together — to the extent that we even consider ourselves grown-ups. The concept of maturity rankles.
But we fathers of daughters preside over a unique line of demarcation. The men in our daughters’ lives are compared to us, for better or worse. And we tacitly judge the men they choose. I would gladly be their model but not their judge. For if there is any model in me it derives from so many other antecedent fathers in my life. Fatherhood is comprised of an attitude toward love derived from myriad influences, like manhood itself and partnership.
As I do in most matters of the soul, I resort to the words of poets. Their paternal advice and fond hopes filter these moments for me.
For instance, the fatherhood and companionship in a moment described by Richard Wilbur in “the Writer,” coaxing his daughter’s compositions. He hears her tympanic strokes on the keyboard as she composes a writing life like her father’s.
Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
How much more than writing is being composed.
There is the fatherhood and companionship so gently embodied in Philip Booth’s swimming lesson with his daughter. This, too, could be the transition to buoyancy of all kinds, the trust and finesse it takes to feel secure in water, to chart one’s own course; to set out, and depart the security of a father’s arms.
….remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.
And the poem I have given to lots of young couples planning nuptials, one I hope to blubber through some day when my girls have accepted a partner, “A Wedding Toast,” also by Richard Wilbur.
what love sees is true;
That the world’s fullness is not made but found.
Life hungers to abound
And pour its plenty out for such as you.
One of the most striking, subtle models lodged in memory was only hinted at by a friend’s son, speaking to his father at his own wedding. “Thank you, Dad, for showing me how to love a woman.”
Would that every marriage lived up to that possibility and linked generational vows like that.
My questionnaire notion makes things more unrealistic, more like the magic questions of fairy tales. What then might the precise qualifier be — to meet my daughter at Starbucks and get off to a good start? I can write the poem about the training wheels. I can write this essay, in all sincerity, yearning on her behalf for the same abundance her mother and I have enjoyed, for abundance has so many unique and unexpected ways in which to occur.
Dear Mr. Right: You could surprise me with answers and questions I’ve never considered. If you’ve followed this letter with understanding and insight, if it resonates in your heart, then let it become the application for my daughter’s love. You’ll know if you’re in the ballpark.
You’ll be a blend, knowing poetry trivia questions and all the lyrics to “Bohemian Rhapsody” by heart, and perhaps a question and answer or two beyond even my wildest dreams. But most pertinently, you’ll echo the poets and know already that “what love sees is true.”
Todd R. Nelson lives in Penobscot.
This story was originally published in Bangor Metro’s January/February 2019 issue. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.