Music is playing. Everyone has been seated. The bridesmaids are floating down the aisle in front of me as people are scurrying around behind me to ensure my veil is just right and my train is in place. Mom is on the front row clutching her handkerchief and blotting her eyes. If I look hard enough, I can see my groom standing in front of all these people, nervous that right now all eyes are on him. To be honest, I’m nervous too. Then I feel a hand on my shoulder. I recognize it immediately because it’s the same hand that has held mine my entire life. My dad takes my arm in his and begins leading me down the long aisle towards the next chapter of my life.
Thankfully, my dad is a steady man so he’s holding back the tears pretty well – even still, I hear the crack in his voice as he whispers a few lighthearted words to take my mind off my worries that I’ll trip in front of all these people. Suddenly it seems we have arrived, and before I know it I hear, “Who gives this woman to this man?” Yet instead of the strong, steady voice I’ve heard all of my life, I hear a shaky, tear-filled, “Her mother and I do.” I turn, look him in the eyes and there are the tears he can no longer hold back as he joins my hand with my groom’s.
With that, my dad let go.
In truth, that wasn’t really the first time my dad let me go. Dads are constantly teaching us with every lesson to be more independent. And with each lesson, they have to let go a little bit more.
He started by holding me with all the care he could muster. No matter how strong he seemed, the thought of this fragile baby in his arms was terrifying. As I got bigger, his grip lessened. He began to let go.
As baby wobbles turned into steady steps, his hands were my stability. As I grew stronger, he let go and I took off to venture the world as fast as my feet could take me.
When the training wheels finally came off and two wheels didn’t seem as scary, Dad’s hands kept me steady until I was ready to tell him “Daddy, let go!” And he did, and he cheered me on as I flew down the road.
As a permit became a driver’s license, he sent me on my way with rules, tips, and a lot of trust to take on the open road. As I drove away, he let go a little more.
Despite the ache in his heart to hold me a little bit longer, with every hug and tip on keeping the oil changed or doing the laundry or keeping my grades up, he let go a little more, as I went off to college and moved out of my childhood home.
Daddy knew he only had a small amount of time to teach me the lessons of the world – that’s why little steps along the way were so important. But don’t let his strong physique or loud voice fool you, every step I took away left him a little softer. For dad, every step I took was a little letting go. It was his gift. Thankfully, even though his hand may not be holding mine anymore, his heart always will.
Dads make a mark on our lives that few can mimic. I was lucky to have a dad that took time to teach me how to leave him, but always let me know he was one phone call away. The biggest lesson from my dad? “I’ll always love you, no matter – how big you get.” That one always sticks.