Thursday, August 22, 2013

Letting the Butterfly Go: A Tough Goodbye

I like to tell a story about my daughter and the Butterfly Pavilion in Denver.  The Butterfly Pavilion is a local tropical oasis that features (you guessed it) butterflies who flit around plants while young children marvel at their color and beauty.  I had just been separated (and eventually divorced) and my daughter was a mere six years old and taking in the sensory adventure.  She had bent down and picked a flower.  She was probably wearing a t-shirt dress covered in flowers.  As a young girl, she was definitely a "girly girl" adorned often in shades of pink and yellow with bows in her hair.  No wonder she couldn't resist touching and picking that flower.  She was not old enough to read all the signs of "don't pick the flowers."

A teenage employee at the Pavilion spotted the little girl with the flower in her hand, and (as I heard the story) snatched it out of her dimpled tiny hands and yelled at her to "don't pick the flowers, they are the butterfly's food."  Tears ensued and her mother caught up with the teen to accost him over the incident.  Moments later, I got the accounting of the story over the phone.  I was mad.  I was mad I was not there to protect her, and I was mad over what happened.  Ultimately, I reached the CEO of the Butterfly Pavilion.  What a great title that is...that's like being the "Mayor of Candyland."  Anyhow, I caught up with the CEO and explained what happened.  I didn't ask him for anything, but felt he should know that for a place that caters to kids, this was not a way to treat small children.  He called me a few days later after checking into the events, and informed me the teenage boy was fired.
Dad Face-painting at a birthday party

I did not want the boy fired, but did hope he learned something from the incident.  I tell this story often also as it symbolized the parent I became.  Getting divorced can send a parent one of two directions; either you drift away from your kids with your new life, or you re-commit yourselves to becoming a better parent.  The "Butterfly Pavilion Incident" also served as a lesson to all of my kids about standing up for yourself.

As far as being a better parent, I honestly tried my best on this one.  It's tough being a divorced Dad as you miss out on a lot of things since you just aren't there every day.  I travel with work which makes it tougher in one sense, but helped since most of my trips over the years are during the week when I didn't get to see them anyway.  On weekends, I became "Disneyland Dad"...spoiling my two (and eventually) three kids with fun and adventure when I had them.  There were literally trips to Disneyland and even a Disney Cruise.  More importantly, I tried my best to raise them and teach them to be prepared for life.

Whenever I could I was there for the Halloween party at school, or the overnight school science trip to the mountains.  I made Halloween costumes wanting their costumes to be the best.  I even dressed as Spiderman for her brother's birthday party.  He was embarrassed even though he was only four.  An understatement to say I tried hard.

My daughter adored me, and I adored her.

Each time she graduated from grade school to Jr. High, and Jr. High to High School she cried.  I think it was because she was a bit scared, but also because she had enjoyed the previous chapter so much.  This spring, she graduated from high school and has spent the summer looking forward to college.  This time she didn't cry.  Her high school years were once again quite fulfilling.  She became Captain of her Poms squad, and worked on the high school paper.  She was not the best student at her school, but she became driven.  She hated getting B's or worse in a class.  That drove her to work hard.

She finally stopped looking like me (thank God.) Just like the butterflies at the pavilion she visited as a child, she had blossomed into a colorful and beautiful young woman. Despite her external beauty, I am more proud as a father over the internal beauty she possesses.  While she can have the emotional "ups and downs" of a teenager, she's often described by others as one of the most caring and dear individuals they've met.  I never get tired of hearing these compliments.
Dad and daughter in her dorm room

Yesterday, we had a caravan of cars and boxes headed up to Colorado State University to drop her off for her freshman year in college.  We arrived shortly after 8 AM, and I wanted the day to last as long as possible, but the students were supposed to have everything moved in by Noon and ready for (another) orientation at 1:15.  We had the last minute run to Target right before lunch for the usual dorm stuff; another power cord, more wall hanging gear, and more food for the dorm fridge.  I wanted the trip to Target to last longer just as I wanted the ensuing lunch to not end so quickly.  I knew what was coming.  I didn't want the goodbye to be over and didn't want to say goodbye.

Outside her dormitory under the trees, the student advisors were holding signs to indicate where the students were to meet on the lawn for the afternoon of orientation.  I finally went for the goodbye hug on the sidewalk and I could tell she was in a hurry.  She was excited and didn't want to be late to start the first few minutes of college life.  I double-clutched the hug and re-gripped when she was ready to leave.  I lost the bet on who cries first and told her that she was going to do great in college.  She told me to stop crying as she didn't want to cry.  For the first time, she didn't completely "lose it" when graduating to the next stage in life.

While I could have stayed at a nearby hotel and caught another orientation session covering student safety, or where the health center is and another picnic, I had heard it all twice before and knew it was time to let her go.  She knows that I am a phone call away.  More appropriately, a text message, an Instagram post, or Facebook message away.  I also realize, I can't rush up there and fix a conflict with a teacher, or get some teenager fired for snatching a flower out of her hand.  You could say she's ready for this and Dad is trying to let go.

3 comments:

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  2. Great post and congrats to your daughter on her next chapter in life.

    P.S. I love that butterfly garden in Denver, it was the first place my Dad took me when I came to visit him in Denver after I finally met him. :)

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. Two gingers visiting the same butterfly park and creating memories..."priceless!"

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Average guy w/ an above average appetite for marathon racing and triathlons. Ran my 5th Boston in '15. 3:21, 1:29, 19:21 PR;full/half/5K Opinions & wit are mine