Sometimes, a Dad Has to Let His Girl Ride


cam bike
Photo Illustration by Grace

I suffer from double-vision, apparently.

See there’s this kid I love who keeps getting mail about shit to do as a freshman in college. Holy hell. How does this happen? Wasn’t Elise just crying because she couldn’t ride on my shoulders anymore? She’d intended to do that until she was 16.

Now she’s packing, and I don’t mean heat.

She’s cleaning stuff out and taking placement tests and picking out comforters and warm jackets and has an eye on these super boots. They’re rain boots but also insulated, so they’d safeguard against anything the N.C. mountains can throw at a girl’s feet.

Where do they come up with this? I’m still her dad, though, gosh darn dangit. Before, and after her move-in date.

There’s graduation crap everywhere. Even a third of a cake in the trash, because who could possibly eat all that cake in a week? She can vote and could enlist if she wanted. She could get a tat or actually touch a lottery ticket or donate blood or jump out of a plane.

She could change her name, but probably shouldn’t, because we had to scour an 80s movie to get to her real name.

Where the !@#%! is your helmet?

Holy crap, she can buy fireworks.

Get stuff pierced, or play the craps table. I’m okay with her procuring black cats and betting it all on lucky 13 or even going by Moonbeam Dinklesnorf (not really) but man, when she took off on graduation day on her new bike, without telling me?

Without a !@#$! helmet?

After all the drop-bys and appetizers and cards and gifts, Elise said she’d try her new Schwinn for a spin down the street. Be careful, love. People drive like schmucks in this neighborhood. It’s a Sunday night at dusk. Who knows what can go down?

After a minute, I couldn’t hear her.

She’s not 5. But, she’s not 25. A girl should tell her dad when she decided to turn the classic handlebars away from the court she lives on and head for busier streets. “Where are you?” I texted. No answer. “Where the hell are you guys?” I texted her sister. Nothing.

What a bad idea, I thought.

When dad imagination runs amok

Who does this? Who lets their inexperienced kid take off on a new bike at twilight in an age when eyes stay on touchscreens and not the road? Dad imagination can run away on more things than Dagwood Sandwiches and baking cupcakes with Barbara Niven.

I drove around in the dark looking for my girls and fixed on my stupidity as a father for not insisting on helmet wearing or drawing a line on the street in sidewalk chalk as I once did and declare “don’t go past this line!” Where were my girls?

Wind-in-your-hair freedom-flavored bliss, you get it when your underwear fit right and your T-shirt is barbecue-sauce-stain-free, and you have no missed spots from shaving.

I first saw pedaling feet when I found her.

I saw bliss. Wind-in-your-hair freedom-flavored bliss. I get it when my underwear fit right and my T-shirt is barbecue sauce free and I have no missed spots from shaving. It’s the kind a smile a girl wears on her first bike, not leading to freshman year in college.

She’s safe.

She’s rambling down a residential street under a streetlight smiling and pedaling. That’s my girl. She’s fine. She’s free. I don’t know if she’s looked both ways every single time she crossed a road but I do know she’s good. And happy. I slowed and glared.

Oh, HELL no

I hope she didn’t see that, but I was fuming, too.

Has she ever been allowed to just dart off on a bike at night without a helmet? Hell no. She’ll take placement tests and register for class and get an offer to do something other than study on a Thursday night.

She’s 18, though. Old enough for voting and getting ink and playing the lotto on the same day. She’ll take placement tests and register for class and get an offer to do something other than study on a Thursday night.

She might eat fried food late at night or binge on Gray’s Anatomy.

She might also take copious notes and sign up for a school trip to clean up a river or call me on a Friday and ask if I can come pick her up after class for the weekend. The answer will always be yes. A dad has to trust a girl.

To know that losing her wallet at Kohl’s will mean she’ll carry a purse.

Or that she’ll follow her curiosity or penchant for kindness and experience life in a way I’ll know nothing about. But it will enrich her. And she’ll enrich her new environment. I’ll let her out of my sight, even in the dark, even up the mountain.

It all could happen. And more.

I’ll let her out of my sight, even in the dark, even up the mountain. And I’ll always be a call away. Just around the corner.

[This post by Kelly McKenzie on Just Typikel inspired this post.]

bike quote

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23 thoughts on “Sometimes, a Dad Has to Let His Girl Ride

  1. Once again, the tears moistened my eyes. I thought of a 14 year old girl, who will soon board a plane to Paris…will she be safe, know when to tip, go off to find the perfect danish, speak enough French if she gets lost, remember to say please and thank you…maybe the answer to one or more of these is no; but, she was raised smart and polite and…with tears in my eyes (as I know you will be as you drop your baby off at the dorm steps) I will kiss her, hug her tight and send her off on, what I hope is, the first great adventure in her life. As normal, Eli, a great read!

    1. Thank you, Angela. I think if we’ve done it right, we’ll stay right there with them on their adventures, right?

      So glad you liked this post. Best of luck to you and your girl.

  2. It’s bittersweet, this growing up thing they do. When my oldest son first began college, I was reminded again that each of my sons is my heart walking outside my chest and as they grow up and away, it’s even more vulnerable than I thought. Love her as you do, Papa Bear, and watch all the hard work you’ve put in come to fruition. Trust her and be there to catch her when she falls, because that’s all you can do. The scraped knees you used to kiss will still happen, just in different ways and she’ll need you the same but different. Sending you hugs.

    1. It’s mostly sweet – it just takes some adjustment, Nix. We’re far from days our kids first stretched their boundaries by going to a friend’s house to play.

      Elise has done the heavy lifting; all I’ve done is spot her. I’ll always have her back.

      Any time, day or night. Even if I’ve just put on a Totino’s pizza. Now that’s love.

  3. Pulling at the heartstrings, man. I’m still 8 years away from this, but I can envision it like it’s tomorrow. I know we grew up and left our parent’s houses. But it’s somehow drastically different when it’s our own kids flying the coop. Give her a high five fist bump for me. If I still lived in VA I’d meet you in Roanoke!

    1. I go there sometimes, Eric. Good that you’re experiencing the imagery a bit in preparation. Back then, we were the ones eager to stretch our wings; now we’re the ones who’ve built the next and protected the brood for this day. High-five and fist-bump delivered. maybe we’ll get tossed into a Canadian tournament someday.

      Which reminds me … got a couple of Canada questions from Grace last night. Be on the lookout.

  4. I have to go reapply make-up now because your words are beautiful and bittersweet. Happy tears this Monday my friend, thank you.

    We are on the same path only with our boy and its been so different since school let out. He’s making appointments and taking tests and planning schedules and all those things that are required for college and has yet to reach for me, okay, maybe once, but that is it. I couldn’t be more proud of all his work, but the mere thought that he doesn’t need me for much has been such an adjustment for me. The one thing we have is they all know we are here for them so I am just on the sidelines cheering and waiting.

    1. Are we talking just a mascara touch-up, or the rouge/base kind of thing? Glad it reached you somehow.

      Summer after senior year isn’t like the others. They’re kind of grown up, although Elise might need extra motivation to do her cardio work today. It is an adjustment, though.

      Now we get to sit back and watch what kind of magic unfolds for them.

  5. Beautifully put. It’s crazy how time flies. M starts part one of his nursing education next week and I’m thinking “no, he can’t possibly be in charge of stuff like that!” But he’s old enough and this is what he is meant to do, in one form or another. *gulp*

    It’s orientation week here, so I’m seeing a lot of parents and their kids (young adults to me, a stranger) going through the various stages of transition right now. Fascinating and sometimes emotional, even as a spectator.

    1. Thanks Holly. It goes in a flash, the time, unless it’s the time you’re waiting to get their asses off the playground at age 4. I imagine by now M has shocked you with his responsibility. They’ve got this.

      Drop-off day wasn’t emotional for us; leaving her a week later after seeing her for the first time after the move, that was different!

  6. Oh man, I’ve been away too long. I’d forgotten how you take your readers right into the story and make them feel. Nice job, Eli. And yes, you’re on the precipice of an interesting time in your girls’ lives. Soak it all up. I blinked and my gal just got her degree this month and her brother is interning half way around the world from home.
    Thank you for the link to my biking-from-hell post. I do appreciate it!

    1. It’s good to see you, Kelly. So glad you liked this one. I knew when I found her on the bike, I had to write it … and I knew I wanted to write something about bikes, after your post.

      Elise and I are working through her offseason soccer workout. I’m sore and beat but still standing!

      You must be so proud of your cubs.

  7. Ugh – I’m not crying at all. I am years away and I feel the bittersweet drip down deep into my soul. My 11 year old son finally lost it on me the other day because I was still insisting he tell me when he leaves the house to go shoot hoops in the driveway! I’m just right outside mom!!! Excuse me darling, but a mom hears the front door suddenly open and slam and she remembers back to when you were 4 and “ran away” because I wouldn’t let you have a 3rd Oreo cookie!!! We never forget kiddo.
    Pray that I have as much grace and wisdom as you when the time finally comes.

    1. Don’t cry, Les. I try not to. Those little battles get us ready for the big ones. She’s so independent now. But I want to be ready for when she does need me again, even if it’s just for encouragement. We’d rather have them ready too, right, than clinging to us or leaning on us too much?

      What a balance. I’m not sure you’d call what I have now grace and wisdom, but I haven’t pulled my own hair very much. Yet.

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