THE LAST FEW WEEKS have been trying times for me as a father. The debate on police brutality has taken the national stage, pitting one side against another in an ideological battle over life, death and the use of force in our communities.
We've seen unarmed men choked to death. We've seen police officers gunned down. We've seen epithets hurled, aspersions cast and hatred swung like a sword.
And through it all, those of us who are parents have had to guide our children around the chaos. We talked with them about race and class, about our rights as Americans, about the dangers they must overcome.
But in the midst of those conversations, I celebrated a birthday. When I turned 47 last week, I did so with the expectation that I would smile, but that the tension that has blanketed our communities would be somewhere lurking in the background.
Then my daughter stepped in.
In order to understand what that means, you must first know that there's something different about daughters. They can frustrate you with sneaky shenanigans that boys aren't diabolical enough to try. They can encourage you to keep going with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. But there are times when a daughter can step into a father's nighttime and turn on the lights. When she does, she makes everything seem all right.
Eve did that for me on my birthday, with one of her trademark giant cards made out of poster board. She chose neon green for this year's edition, since everyone knows neon is in this year. (OK, I didn't really know, but just go with me on this.)
She began with a simple-enough message: "Happy 47th birthday Dad," written in block letters on the front of the card. When I opened the card, it had a numbered list titled, "47 things I love about you."
That she'd numbered them from 1 to 47 wasn't surprising. This, after all, is the same little girl who ran the fifth-grade Justin Bieber Club with an iron fist. She drafted rules that included a seating chart for the club members and a pledge that read as follows: "We pledge to love Justin Bieber now and forever. We will always sit in the way we will. We will listen to his music. As long as you love me."
And speaking of love, her card contained plenty of love for me. Her reasons for loving me were wide-ranging and endearing. There were the standards, like "No. 3: Good teacher," "No. 6: You help me with homework," and "No. 13: You're nice."
Then it got weird.
"No. 29: You never have poop on your car" made me feel slightly uncomfortable until she explained that she meant bird poop. "No. 33: Your shoes are always shiny" made me feel pressured to get out my shoe-shine kit to make sure I was living up to her expectations.
"No. 24: You have good hygiene" was related to "No. 27: You rap in the shower."
Having come from the hip-hop generation, I guess it's normal for me to rap in the shower, though it's a little weird that my daughter can hear me.
The fact that she listed things like "you pay attention to me," "you are very caring" and "you keep us safe" made me feel loved. And being loved by your 13-year-old daughter makes a father feel 10 feet tall.
I only wish everyone could feel this way. Perhaps then, in the wake of the pain we've experienced these last few months, we could take a day to revel in love.
I guess that's my Christmas wish: That in these troubled times, as we celebrate the birth of a son, we would also celebrate our daughters. After all, they are the ones who can take marker to poster board and make a dad feel 10 feet tall.
If just a few more daughters did that, more families would experience the perfect gift this Christmas: love.