• Aperture: f/2.8
  • Focal Length: 200mm
  • ISO: 1250
  • Shutter: 1/250 sec
  • Camera: NIKON D1H

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

I didn’t notice it while I was standing on the field — this player was only a few feet from me with the word “Dad” emblazoned across his left shoulder. If I had been more observant, I might have asked about it, found the story behind the story.

Instead I was watching another “Dad,” the paper’s chief photographer, pacing the sidelines, alternating between shooting the action and training his Canon on the dark edges of the bleachers, looking for his daughter and her Homecoming date. Her first date.

It’s going to be fun to see him adjust as his little girl slides into adulthood. He’s the kind of dad who will secretly grimace if her makeup is a little too heavy and march her back to her room to change if her skirt is too short. The kind who will pretend to be asleep when she comes home but will have his eyes peeled to the ceiling, making sure the goodnight kiss doesn’t take longer than a peck on the cheek should take.

A girl judges herself by the reflection she sees in her parents’ eyes, with her mother teaching her how to love and her father teaching her how to be loved. All too soon, he’ll be walking her down the aisle, inwardly crying, outwardly smiling as he hands her off to a boy who he’ll make promise to cherish her forever — lest he be forced to break the poor sod’s legs if he doesn’t.

It’s midnight tonight and I haven’t heard my daddy’s voice in 16 years, but the things he taught me shadow my life, emblazon their own scar across my heart. He taught me to scorn love, because it will not last. He taught me to hate commitment, because it is only a trap. He taught me to fear abandonment, because it opened a chasm of chaos. He taught me to doubt myself, because I was not worthy.

I don’t know the story of this football player and his dad. I wish I did. And I don’t really know our chief photographer’s daughter, not very well anyway. But I know that her pictures are all over his desk, along with those of her brother and her mom. I know that his eyes sparkle when he says her name. And I know that her daddy loves her. So much that it makes my own heart ache sometimes with a peculiar mixture of awe and envy.

By now, she’s tucked safely into her bed, this first milestone passed with what I hope were flying colors. The pleasant dreams, I will leave with her. The tears that fall tonight are all mine.

Music: We’re No Here by Mogwai

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