It keeps happening, and I cannot explain why. I know when it started, and quite possibly the event that triggered it. I just cannot explain why it has not stopped. Surely enough time has passed. Evidently not.
Yesterday I took my daughter to the airport, following a brief visit with me. She was returning home, to prepare for her upcoming freshman year of college. The car ride was unremarkable, the expected “pep talk” about how “I am just a phone call away,” and a variety of sage-like advice, occasionally followed by the anticipated eye-rolls and “I know Dad”. I put a lot of pressure on myself, to make sure that as teenager at the beginning of her adult years, that she was prepared for all the financial decisions, the ability to be wary around snakes and predators looking for suckers, all the while remaining focused on her purpose for college, all the while enjoying the many new experiences she will have. I needed to make sure all of my bases were covered.
As we walked into the airport, both of us pulled up our masks (we still wear them, our choice), and proceeded to the TSA area as she did not have to check any bags since this was a short trip. My daughter took one last mental check-list to make sure that she had everything, and pulled out her identification. And then came our hug good-bye.
We have done this many times over the years following her visits to me. Even during times of custody conflict, unsure when the next visit might be, or, depending on how bad the Covid19 pandemic would get, unsure if and when the next visit could take place, I always kept my composure. This farewell was different though.
Let me reflect back before I get to that difference. There had been a lengthy time difference due to a custody issue that I will not get into, but it prevented me, legally from seeing my daughters, for well over two years. In that time, both of my daughters had growth spurts, and from the last time that I had seen them, when they basically came up to my chest in height, now, were as tall as me. I talked to them every day on Facetime, but I had no concept of how they had grown, until they were standing right in front me. It was shocking to me, the physical evidence of “time” that I had missed seeing them in person. I could not help but break down.
So back to yesterday, it happened again as I said good-bye to my oldest daughter. She let go of her carry-on luggage, and we hugged. And then I heard her say, “I love you Dad.” I have never kept track of who says it first, I would say it was fairly even regardless, but this particular moment, right after she said it, I am sure she felt my grip get a little tighter.
I had been preparing for this moment for a while now, and honestly, have a bit of an advantage over her mother as far as “separation” goes, and the time that my daughter and mother will now be separated, just as my daughter and I have these last years. And even though I felt I was ready, as my hug got tighter, I tried to say back to my daughter, “I love you too.” Four simple words, should have taken less than two seconds to get out. Instead, the effort took more than five seconds for each word, because all of a sudden, I was choking back tears.
This was not the emotions I felt concluding each custody visit. Quite the contrary, I knew at that moment, I was sending my daughter on her continued path of greatness as an influencer (out of respect for her I am not stating her interest, but her studies and her career will have an impact on people, I can at least blab that). The next time that I will see her, hopefully, will be at Christmas break, if not sooner. But she will have completed her first semester, the toughest semester to get through in college because of all the personal adjustments she, like all kids going to college, will face.
I never used to be this sappy or mushy. I had always been known to keep a cool head, focused on the task at hand, in control, never let anyone see my reactions. The “when” and “what event” I was referring to, emergency open heart surgery in 2008 to save my life was when my emotional floodgates were opened. While it is common and normal to experience depression and anxiety (I did experience both in the few years after), I feel that my “drip drip drip” of weepiness is something different. I just have yet to figure it out. I am not saying it is a bad thing, albeit a bit embarrassing, and once again for my daughter.
But as my daughter walked through the TSA line, she had no doubt, that I love her, even if I had a hard time getting it out.