Uppermost House: The gift at the door

PeterLewisTreehouseCMYKBy S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

On a recent Friday evening, following sketchy directions from a toothless guy at a gas station, I turned a rented sedan onto a quiet street in a small town in western Virginia and began scanning house numbers. When I got close, I flicked the headlights off and drove the last hundred feet in the dark. At the correct driveway, I turned in and let the car coast slowly to a stop on the crunchy gravel. I got out, left the door ajar, stepped quietly up onto the porch and rang the bell.

A beautiful young woman answered wearing sweatpants, a hoodie and socks. She stared, tipped her head, blinked, and then her eyes got big and she fell into my arms.

“I didn’t know what to get you for your birthday,” I said through a mouthful of brown curls.

“So you got me you!” my daughter whispered in my ear.

It took Amanda 7,670 days to reach her 21st birthday, which, if you do the math, is just about average. I pondered for weeks what to get her as a gift for this milestone day, but dismissed each idea in turn — cash (too impersonal), shoes (57 pairs is enough already), and a baby rhinoceros (they smell, plus her room at college is pretty small).

Finally, I listened to my heart and realized that I didn’t wanted to give my precious daughter some thing; I wanted to be with her, to stand in front of her and hold her face in my hands and tell her how proud I was of the young woman she’d become. So, I bought a plane ticket.

There was some pushback about the idea, especially from some of my female friends. “Yuck,” said one; and “If my dad showed up on my 21st birthday I’d shoot him,” said another; and “Are you sure this is a good idea?” said a third, deeply concerned, her hand on my arm, ready to pull me back from the brink of parental impropriety.

The general fear was spawned by the fact that turning 21 in our culture has a certain social significance — for mostly the wrong reasons, unfortunately — and having a middle-aged guy show up unannounced could certainly spoil a typical 21-year-old’s evening plans. But for my daughter, the stereotypical first chance at boozing and partying and acting like an utter fool until the wee hours without risking jail time held no such attraction. This is a girl virtually immune to negative peer pressure, whose life has been characterized by a nearly unbroken string of wise decisions. In the end, I flew south riding the buoyant encouragement of my wife: “Oh Peter, you should totally do that!”

The next two days were perfect. Amanda drove me around the town and the university campus, pointing to this and that while I just looked at her and smiled, hearing almost none of her words, just delighted to be breathing the same air with her.

We worked out, went trail running high in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and ate pizza and burritos with her many friends. We laughed constantly and flopped exhausted each night in her room, watching movies until we began to doze off. It was just like when we were kids growing up together.

On Sunday morning, she was excited to take me to her church. It was a big, energized place, full of young people, and the musicians were many and the music was joyful. I stood next to my daughter and sang my heart out to God, thankful beyond measure.

On the wall of Amanda’s room is a poster that she has covered with inspirational quotes and sayings, from famous people, from her friends, and many from the Bible. On Monday morning, while she was rummaging around in the kitchen getting ready for class and I was packing my bags to go home, I found a blank spot near one corner and wrote, “I love you. I’m praying for you. I trust you. You’re safe. I’m listening, — Dad.”

A few minutes later, we stood in the driveway, facing each other with our hands intertwined. I prayed for her and then held her for a very long time in my arms. And then we let go and she drove off to class and I pointed my rental car east toward Richmond.

I had trouble driving away from my daughter, and it wasn’t because of the glare of the early sun. It’s just hard to see through so many tears.

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