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Tim Durnin: Father Embraces Every Twirl, Skip as Daughter Transitions Into Teenager

Throughout her young life, 13-year-old has been a source of guidance for a dad who's 'Still Learning'

My oldest daughter, Bailey, became a teenager this week. In general, a daughter’s 13th birthday is not a father’s favorite milestone. It was certainly not mine.

I find it difficult not to be cliché about time’s passage and the accelerating pace with which her transformation into a young woman is occurring. But I am drawn to write about it.

I feel as if I owe her this space, these words. The title of this column is “Still Learning,” and she has been a silent teacher, an unknowing sage and an unwitting guide to me.

The lessons started early — unconditional love, ultimate responsibility, unabashed wonder at the miracle of life. As she grew, the lessons became more nuanced, more specific to her many graces.

She started ballet at age 4 and took her uncoordinated and frighteningly untalented father with her. I have shared the stage with her as an animated prop through eight performances of The Nutcracker and nearly as many performances in the spring.

I have had a front-row seat to the emerging grace of dance, tempered by dedication and refined by hours of practice. It is a stunning and humbling evolution to observe.

Very different lessons have emerged on the soccer field. Bailey has not quite grown into her gazelle-like legs. In spite of this, her enthusiasm never wanes.

She is not a starter but plays each minute she is on the field as if the game and sport were created solely for her amusement. To the great chagrin of her coaches, she is often caught skipping. Hers is a simple joy for the sport itself, unencumbered by expectation.

Children tend to magnify the limitations of their parents, and Bailey is no exception. I see my shortcomings as a parent reflected in her. I can only hope they will not prove to be too much of a handicap as she moves out into the world.

She has self-confidence that can easily be mistaken for arrogance. It is not. Like the grandmother for whom she is named (my mother’s maiden name is Bailey), she enters a room with a sense of purpose and tends to fill it.

Also like her grandmother, once in the room she stands akimbo, assessing, deciding, not easily swayed from her convictions or conclusions. Some might even call her stubborn at times. The genetic link is unmistakable.

Early on, Bailey decided she had an ardor for the stage and has had the good fortune to be cast in a number of professional productions. Watching her perform has been one of my life’s greatest joys. It reminds me what it means to be lost in one’s passion.

But it is the everyday reminders that are her greatest gift to me. Any man who has worn the title “daddy” knows that no other salutation will ever come close to the honor this term bestows. Her greetings are a benediction.

Our parting ritual is special, too. Every day when I leave to go to work I kiss her goodbye and whisper the same words in her ear, “I love you and you are perfect.” Indeed she is perfect and, in that moment, it seems to me we all are.

The most important wisdom she offers me comes through the multiple, daily reminders about priorities, about what matters, about love and family. I hope I never lose these as she moves ever closer to finding her own way in the world.

For now I take each day for the blessing that it is. I breathe these memories in deeply, holding them for needed recollection when she is on her own. I do confess to asking God to slow things down. On some days I think He even listens.

— Tim Durnin is a father, husband and serves as chief operating officer for Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE) International. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for comments, discussion, criticism, suggestions and story ideas.

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