Sometimes, they say something so adorable, you feel compelled to pick them up, purse your lips against their forehead, and freebase the innocence straight from their cranium. One time, Becca–my one and only little lady–put a dollar in a panhandler’s cup and asked, “Can I play in your fort now?” Unfortunately for me, the bum said yes, and instead of basking in my daughter’s naieveté, I spent the next thirty minutes sopping up her tears with my sleeve while trying to explain why I wouldn’t let her rummage through the homeless man’s cardboard castle.
Kids are also capable of channeling an astounding amount of sympathy. Case in point, at my mother’s funeral, when Becca comforted me by saying, “Is okay, Daddy. I be your mommy now.” I don’t know if that promise magically altered my gray matter or what, but from that moment on, I couldn’t look at Becca without seeing little traces of my mother: the mannerisms, the mole on her right cheek, the missing teeth–the cancer treatments made my mom’s teeth more fragile than daisy petals. Seeing the woman who gave birth to you in the girl you gave life to is oddly comforting.
But little ladies aren’t all pigtails and endearing speech impediments. There’s a darkness lurking not so deep inside each and every one of them, and in Becca’s case, it rises like the Kraken right around bath time. It was then–no more than a day after making her noble pledge–that Becca told me she hated me for the first time. “I HAT YOU,” if we’re being specific, but I knew what she meant. And all because I told her scotch is only for adults with dead mothers.
I was in no mood or emotional state to hear her declaration of hate, but even that didn’t disturb me as much as the string of syllables that rolled out of her mouth earlier this afternoon. There we were–me, Becca, and our matriarch, Jennifer–enjoying an idyllic autumn day on the state capitol lawn, when Becca came down with a wicked case of the questions: “Why is the sky blue?” “Is Gramma on that cloud?” “Who is he?”
She was pointing to a statue of George Washington, and I, trying to be a good father/American, walked her towards it while relaying all the biographical information Google could provide. That’s when she looked up at me with an ear-to-ear grin and said the worst thing a child could ever say to their parent, “I want to be president.”
In retrospect, I probably should’ve given her proclamation about as much weight as the h-bomb she dropped in the tub–her hair shampooed in a mohawk–but I wasn’t thinking rationally at the moment. All I could picture was my sweet, innocent Becca wearing a Hillary Clinton pantsuit and holding her finger over the big, red button that would usher in the nuclear apocalypse.
“Never–say–that,” I said, putting my pointer finger so close to her nose her eyes crossed and filled with water. Before the first tear could roll down her cheek, she went screaming down the hill towards Jennifer.
“What’s wrong,” Jennifer said, scooping Becca up into her arms and searching for signs of injury.
I caught up to them just in time to hear Becca mumble, “Daddy said I couldn’t be president,” into the wool of Jennifer’s turtleneck.
“Why would you say that?” Jennifer asked, perplexed by my need to squash our daughter’s dreams.
“In my defense, I never said she couldn’t be president,” I argued. “I simply told her to never say she wanted to be president.”
“Because I don’t want her to be president.”
“Have you SEEN what it takes to be president these days: the pandering, the backstabbing, the flip-flopping, the begging for money? Think of all the Republicans and Democrats currently running for office and name me one who you’d actually like our daughter to look up to.”
Jennifer thought for a moment, bouncing Becca in a way that made her whimpers sound like a helicopter propeller. “Lincoln,” she said.
“Lincoln Chafee?” I said, nearly swallowing my gum.
“No, Honest Abe Lincoln,” she clarified.
“That’s cheating! I said CURRENTLY running for president.”
“I heard what you said, but I couldn’t think of any.”
“THAT’S NOT THE POINT,” Jennifer yelled so loud Becca stifled her sniffles and shot me a look of concern. “Sorry sweetheart,” she said, coaxing Becca’s head back to her neck.
“Then what is?” I whispered, out of respect to Becca’s ears.
“The point,” Jennifer continued, matching my tone, “is that she is three years old. Today she wants to be president, yesterday she wanted to be a butterfly, and there’s no telling what she’ll want to be tomorrow, but whatever it is, we need to support her.”
If Jennifer was holding a microphone in place of our daughter, that was the moment she would’ve dropped it. Ceding defeat, I sidled up to the remaining loves of my life and rested my head against Becca’s back. Her quaking lungs confirmed that she was still pouting about the whole president thing.
“Hey, Becca Bear,” I said, prompting her to bury her head deeper into Jennifer’s neck. “Do you still want to be president?”
Her nodding caused Jennifer and me to rock back and forth like timid concertgoers.
“Then you have my vote.”
Becca turned and placed her arms around my neck, swinging from parent to parent like a baby chimp. Once her velcroed sneakers were affixed to my ribs, she gave me a big kiss on the lips and said, “I love you, Daddy!”
“You can say that again,” I said; so she did, and I realized if I can just teach her to be a moral, honest, and kindhearted person, I’ll never have to worry about her becoming the president.
Written by: Mark Killian
Photograph by: Chris Boyles