Recently, we remembered a story about our daughter wanting to marry her daddy when she was very little, then crying when he explained that wasn’t possible. For a brief period of time, if a male role model is present, a father — biological or adoptive or foster or simply stand-in — is the only measure that daughters may have about the men in their lives. How dad sees her, how he treats her and communicates with her, as well as how he interacts with the other members of the family… these experiences become, to some extent, the standards by which other male relationships are assessed.
And when daddy treats his daughter like a princess? An intelligent, capable princess for whom he imagines all the most amazing accomplishments, such as travel, college, achievements and so many other treasures?
Can you really argue that’s wrong? No, I don’t think you can say that it’s wrong for a father to want great things for his daughter, as long as he’s also realistic about who she is, what she wants. As long as he listens to her, and adjusts his expectations to support her own inner sense of self, her own dreams and aspirations, and enables her reach toward those goals.
Lest you still think it’s wrong to want to be a princess?
We had one daughter who had a crush on a boy in her grade. For two years, she was very interested in him. Meanwhile she dressed up for dinner dates and dances with her daddy, and he was the measure of her esteem for men in the world. They danced through Disney together, she in her flowing dresses, arms flung wide, twirling at the edge of human circumference, certain he would anchor the pivot point, balanced to hold her steady and let her reach as far as she could go, yet remain safe.
Jessie believed she was loved. Valued. The most important person in his universe, when they had their dates.
Yes, she was in love with a little boy, though she never knew more than her Valentine’s affection for him, writing his name on a card and hovering over it. A second grader. A little girl’s puppy love.
Her only real experience with being the object of another’s great masculine love was feeling like a princess on her father’s arm. And I am grateful, every day of my life, that she had that gift from him.
Chris has always aimed this focus on his daughters. Tonight it was directed at Sarah on prom night.
His lens followed her. He watched her with her date. With her friends. Her classmates. Her family. Her mentor. He reveled in Sarah’s confidence and joy.
At the end of the night, the camera was put away. We returned home, and Sarah went off to her night of dinner, dancing, celebrating, socializing. Finals and classes are over. Commencement is one week away. High school is almost a memory, and tonight was the culmination of 12 years of hard work. And the start of new dreams …
Tonight, Sarah was a princess. One of dozens, but the only one from inside our family and our frame of reference.
There are so few opportunities in our lives, except when we don costumes and roles, to be the focus of all eyes, the royalty at the center of the event.
Sure, there’s plenty of truth to social arguments about body image, and cultural value statements, and so many other perceptions about gender and power and other issues. Reasons why proms are not always a positive experience.
But I’m here to remind you, that I’m grateful for every day that my younger child felt like a princess. She had so few years to bask in that love. And she will never promenade or walk down a wedding aisle or across the graduation stage for a diploma.
And my 18-year-old has grappled for these moments of equilibrium and self-confidence and celebration and feeling inwardly beautiful, as well as externally stunning. She has had her own set of challenges, and she has earned tonight’s liberty. And the status of princess.
Yes, there are plenty of reasons to intellectually protest promenades and ball gowns and tuxedos. I respect those reasons and arguments.
But I will say again, you haven’t lived my family’s life, or walked in my shoes. And gained my perspective about the value of being a princess.
My reasons for wanting to give a daughter the feeling of being a princess? Largely emotional, though rooted in plenty of anecdotes and years of working therapeutically with two vastly different daughters, with different issues and realities and problems and strengths.
Today, I am grateful for chances to give our children this dream.
As I mentioned, I have walked the streets of Disney fantasy, and seen my youngest child dance through them with her father. She needed to escape, and believe in ideas and fantasies bigger than herself. Routinely, she also had to consider her imminent mortality, and have conversations with counselors and pastors about life after death. As it turned out, I sat on the other side of double doors while the my youngest daughter’s lungs bled out and they surgically opened her chest to try to restore her heartbeat and oxygen exchange.She died without our companionship, while I begged to be with her as she passed away, but was kept one room, several feet and a whole lifetime apart from her, forever.
My comfort? That she danced. That she believed she was a princess. That she dared to love. And was sure she was already loved.
I have seen my eldest child on the rolling lawns of Castle Hill among her peers, in a long glittering gown on the arm of her affectionate date.We snapped photos overlooking Plum Island Sound, before she claimed a fleeting night of poise and pure exultation in the midst of ending high school and starting college and a nursing program.
Getting to that moment, to that height? It has cost Sarah dearly. She has earned it. Striven for it. Wrestled with her own challenges and demons; defied great odds to be here, among us, intact and accomplished.
I have seen what a day of feeling like a princess can give to a child who is dying. Or to a young woman just starting to live.
Just fleeting moments. Fragile bubbles. Dreams. Fantasies.
But also assurances. Standards of measure. Sources of confidence and self-eseteem. Fulfilment of a wish. Assuredness that she is worth being loved. And certainty that she is loved already. And that she can take her own risks, and love others, too. For however long she is given on earth to do so.