So… this is sort of where I’m going with this topic, but I didn’t have much time to edit it and really sort out my thoughts. Consider this a rough, rough draft, mostly because I feel as though I’m not making the point I want to make at the end. Also, it’s too long (as my first drafts always are), so I know I need to cut it down. Suggestions are very welcome.
Connected to the backyard of my childhood home was a grocery store. I use the term “grocery store” very lightly. My small town had little use for much more than the grocery store/gas station/convenience store combination. The daffodil-yellow, eye-sore of a building was hardly bigger than a house, but as a child, I jumped on every opportunity to accompany my dad on a mission for a gallon of milk. “Readysetgo!” I’d shout as soon as our feet left the pavement of our driveway and stepped into the grass. My dad would let me win, which frustrated me to no end. He didn’t need to let me win; I was perfectly capable of beating an adult male in a race all on my own, thank you very much. For as active as I was on the way to the store, I was equally lazy on the trip back. Almost immediately after we left the store, I’d look up at my dad and say, “Carry me, Daddy!” He’d sigh, but would always pick me up and throw me over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry, gallon of milk still in hand. I thought it was so much fun dangling over his back, lifting my head up just before the blood rushing to my head caused pain, bouncing up and down to the beat of his stride as his sturdy shoulder softly jabbed me in the gut. I believed in the fireman’s carry and in the simplistic joy of being held by my dad.
On one occasion, we left the store, and I turned to my dad to ask him to pick me up. Routinely, he sighed and tossed me over his shoulder, but he added, “You’re getting too big. I won’t be able to do this much longer.” Suddenly, my dad’s shoulder hitting me in the gut felt like a rhythmic reminder that I was doomed to grow up, a clock ticking with every step he took. I had always fantasized about growing up and being one of those cool teenagers, but in that moment I wondered what the appeal of growing up was if your dad couldn’t throw you over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry anymore. I lost my belief, and I never asked my dad to carry me back from the store again.
In my naive youth, I didn’t realize the many ways a father can carry his daughter. Though I am much too big for my father to throw me over his shoulder anymore, he does give me his shoulder to cry on, to lean on, to pick me up when I’m falling down. I always thought that needing to be figuratively carried was a sign of vulnerability, and therefore a sign of weakness. It seemed to me that being strong on your own was essential to growing up. I soon learned that vulnerability was not synonymous with weakness. Rather, it is a human quality that is both unavoidable and beautiful. Without vulnerability, without falling down, we would not know who is there to catch us. My dad is there for me when I call him crying at 10 in the morning because I missed an exam, and he never complains when I beg him to come kill the spider on my bedroom wall. He reminds me to drive cautiously during deer season, and he gives me a gruff but convincing “You’re fine” if I sprain my ankle. He calmly explains economics to me when I get frustrated, and he teaches me how to win an argument without teaching me how to win an argument against him. My dad carries me and then sets me back on my feet, always ready to pick me back up again. He gives me his immense knowledge and unyielding wisdom, coupled with both steadfastness and compassion. He teaches me to be ferociously independent, but also to know it’s okay to ask for help. He shows me how to grow up without losing touch with my foundational values. He reminds me to believe in the fireman’s carry.