Over the weekend, hip-hot artist Jasiri X posted this image on his twitter feed. It’s taken from the front page of the New York Daily News’ website. Note the screaming headline and the sympathetic caption: “Accused killer Dylann Roof had one chance at a stable family life — and his abusive dad ruined it for…
So, this past Saturday my daughter Claire and I ran a 5K race here in the Chicago suburbs. It was a bit of a fiasco getting there (a rather unfortunate choice of venue – Toyota Park, where the Chicago Fire play, right off insanely congested Harlem Avenue), but the event itself – the annual Girls On The Run race – was fantastic.
If you’ve never heard of the Girls On The Run organization, it’s a nationwide program that describes its mission thusly:
Girls on the Run is a transformational physical activity based positive youth development program for girls in 3rd-8th grade. We teach life skills through dynamic, interactive lessons and running games. The program culminates with the girls being physically and emotionally prepared to complete a celebratory 5k running event. The goal of the program is to unleash confidence through accomplishment while establishing a lifetime appreciation of health and fitness.
Claire’s school, Abraham Lincoln Elementary, has a GOTR chapter, and although she just finished fifth grade, this was her first year participating in the program.
As it happens, if the girls complete the program, they have to have an adult “running buddy” to run the 5K race with them. This make sense, because for many of them it’s not only the longest distance they’ve ever run – about 3.1 miles – but is also the first organized road race they’ve ever participated in, and, as I can attest from a lot of personal experience, road races tend to be chaotic and disorienting to the uninitiated.
So, I offered to be Claire’s running buddy … somewhat against my better judgment as I have been nursing a bad case of plantar fasciitis in my left foot since Christmas. (Yes, that’s the same injury Joakim Noah played on throughout the NBA playoffs, but he’s highly compensated and way more badass than I am.) But I had to do it, provided my bum foot would hold up, because I knew that running this race with my daughter would be one of the best experiences of my life.
And it was.
It’s not a particularly challenging distance if you’re a regular runner, but it’s a hell of an accomplishment for an 11 year old who’s only been running a few months. Okay, so if I’m being perfectly honest here, we didn’t run the whole distance; I let her set the pace, and she needed to walk on occasion. But we ran most of it, and even when we walked she maintained a pretty good clip.
All of that is really beside the point, though. The point of the event is to capture and build on this amazing spirit these young ladies have. It was truly remarkable to watch them running (or walking, or both) through a three mile course on a Saturday morning, talking manically, enjoying every second of it, when they could have been home in bed or watching cartoons on TV. For Claire, it was the first day of her summer vacation – and a momentous one at that, in that she’s starting middle school in the fall. Yet, I don’t think there was any place she’d rather have been.
We adults are complainers, and perhaps that’s understandable. We don’t like being stuck in traffic early on a Saturday morning after a long week with too much aggravation and too little sense of accomplishment. We don’t like being too hot, or too cold, or too exposed to the sun, or the wind, or the rain, because we’re old and things hurt. We don’t like having to leave the house with no, or an inadequate amount of, coffee. And if you’re a cranky middle aged man like me, you just might have muttered some things under your breath in the privacy of your own motor vehicle that you’d later come to regret.
But these girls, man. They were just awesome. They just wanted to be there, rain or shine. The hassle of getting there – of getting up early, rushing out the door, jamming feet from brake to clutch to accelerator to brake to clutch (because, as my old man always said, you gotta drive a real car, goddammit) – they were oblivious to all that. They were all about doing the thing, experiencing it as it was, and they didn’t have preconceived notion about how it should be.
Sometimes I wish I could just be like that, you know? Maybe growing old beats it out of you, but it’s awfully refreshing to be around it. Even early on a Saturday morning.
And I don’t really know how to articulate this, although I think about it all the time, but I believe one of the greatest privileges in life is to be a parent to a child of the opposite sex. Obviously, I can’t speak for mothers of sons, but I’d like to think there’s a similar dynamic there. I can say, however, that as a father of a daughter, every single day I thank whatever gods there may or may not be that I get to have this experience. For the record, I have two boys, too, and I love them more than life itself. Of course I do; that’s a parent’s job. So I’m not saying girls are “better” than boys, or that having daughters is better than having sons. I’m only saying it’s a revelation every damn day.
But, since we’re on the subject, please do me a favor. Please, let’s abolish expressions like “Daddy’s little girl,” or any thing similar to it. It implies a state of perpetual infancy, and a weird sort of possessory interest that’s just … creepy. Parents don’t own their children; they’re not chattel. And if you want your children to forever remain children – dependent, immature, needy – you’re doing it wrong. You can’t truly love your daughters (or your sons) unless you see them as, and want them to be, complete, autonomous human beings. From the get-go.
Anyway, the point is, I’m immensely proud of everything my daughter’s done in her young life, including that 5K race. It may seem like a small thing, but not if you ran with her. Not if you saw what it meant to her, and how much she loved every moment of it. Likewise, I’m immensely grateful to be a part of her life, to run races with her, to help her with homework … to just be with her. And every step of the way, all I want is for her to be herself. Because she’s freaking awesome.