“Daddy, I need you” were the words that woke me from a deep sleep. I got out of bed and went to see what my daughter wanted. A drink of water and some reassuring words allayed her fears which came from a bad dream and she fell back to sleep — but I remained awake, struck by the simple word “Daddy.” Maybe because I was awakened out of a deep sleep or maybe because I had just never contemplated it before, I was mesmerized by that word. It was not the first time she had called me that name in her five years of life. But this time made me truly think about the meaning of that name, called out in the night, from a fearful child, in need of a drink of water.
It went through my mind that "daddy" is a name that is earned — something that comes from a relationship, not just an indication of status. Anyone can be a father but daddy requires an investment of time — a true relationship. A child who calls for her daddy knows that is someone she can trust. At that moment the sheer weight of the responsibility hit me like never before.
I seem to start late with just about everything. Marriage and fatherhood are no exception. I was 33 when I married my wife and 38 when we had our first child, Elizabeth. We now have two children, our son joined us two years ago, and the life I lived before seems so far away. In that life I only had myself to be concerned with. When I came home at night no one was waiting and I could choose to do whatever I wanted. Today when I come home there is a pounding of feet followed by a yell of “Daddy” and two little people run into my arms, making me drop whatever I am carrying. Wow! What an amazing feeling! That feeling of exaltation though comes at a price: these people completely trust you and rely on you for everything.
I don’t usually think about that price but then, as I sat in bed pondering that single word, I realized something I took for granted. A person earns the name “Daddy” over time. When Elizabeth says those words she has great expectations that every fear, every worry will be resolved by a single person responding to her call. The simplicity of that thinking and — at the same time — the complexity of the response that I must provide is amazing. I am responsible for a life and a belief that I can solve anything, do everything and will respond to all requests with the right answer. How in the world do I ever tell her the truth?
Earning the word
Some linguists may argue with my valuation of this word, saying that the words dada and mama, which turn into daddy and mommy, are simply the result of the easiest sounds a child can make when first talking. According to those same linguists, a parent views that initial sound as a reference to them because parents are self-absorbed and think that all references relate to them. (Parenthetically, I wonder if the experts who come up with these theories may have had some issues with their parents.) In any event, even if the linguists are right, I still believe that Daddy is an earned name. It may start
out as a sound but over time, like all words with meaning to us, it becomes something more.
Before I went back to sleep that night I pledged to myself that I wouldn’t take that word for granted anymore. I will respond as if the world depended on it, because to her it does. I will also appreciate and
enjoy these moments because someday the word Daddy will come with more responsibility and a realization – because by then she will have lived with me long enough – that I am simply a man who loves her more than she can imagine. I sure hope that is enough.