When I look back at the past 12 months, it’s hard to miss the number of good things that have gone away. Ace died. So did Roddy Piper. David Letterman said farewell, followed in short order by Jon Stewart. The Phils traded away Chase Utley. Cindy Mancini, the girl from Can’t Buy Me Love who took Patrick Dempsey from totally geek to totally chic, passed away in July – well, at least Amanda Peterson, the actress who played her, did. Even Phineas and Ferb’s 104 days of summer vacation finally came to an end after seven years. And oh yeah, there was that thing about a job I used to have.
These losses, well, some are bigger than others, but each of them had a place in my life. They each brought me some level of joy and they each held some longevity. I’d been watching Letterman since my junior year of high school. Met Ace about a year later. And I fondly remember doing the African Anteater Ritual at Crazy Zack’s in Myrtle Beach with my roommate Bernie. That summer was the high-water mark of my youth. How can Cindy Mancini be dead? Wasn’t she just 18? Wasn’t I?
When things like these starting going away, you can’t help but think about the number of candles on your last birthday cake.
The first time I thought, ‘I’m getting old,’ was game one of the ’93 World Series when I realized there were players on the Phillies’ roster who were my age or younger. I’d long since made a quiet peace with the reality that my dream of being a professional athlete wouldn’t materialize, but it was weird nonetheless. I guess I had never really paid attention to the whole age thing. My whole life, pro ball players were the guys you looked up to… the guys you aspired to be. But while I kept getting older, they stayed the same age. Now I was passing them by. I was 25.
Ten years later, Amanda Daku marched into my office after a training session and asked me if Paul Newman was famous for anything besides salad dressing.
Daku’s question, asked with all due sincerity, made it clear that if I wasn’t necessarily old, I was surely outdated. I had long since given up on being cool, but just like the ’93 series, it was a moment that took my dead horse and beat it, shot it and vaporized it.
Eight years later I married into a beautiful six-year-old daughter. It wasn’t twenty minutes after we met that Izzy first took my hand, and we’ve been holding hands ever since. From day one I’ve been Izzy’s hero. Whatever I’m doing, she wants to do it too. I’ve taught her to hit a baseball, kick a soccer ball, start the grill and to hold a largemouth bass by its lower lip. She cheers for the Eagles and Flyers and was happy to name our dog Utley. We kayak, slurp steamed clams straight from the shell and wear tandem costumes at Halloween. And as a startling bonus, she actually shares my sense of humor. I still meet adults who don’t get my sarcasm, but Izzy always has, and she’s got an impressively dry wit herself. We make each other belly laugh even when no one else gets the joke.
Izzy supports me unconditionally and always has my back. In her eyes, I can literally do no wrong. To hammer home the point, she frequently sings a song she made up that goes: Da-ddy, Daddy’s the best! Da-ddy, Daddy’s the best! Okay, so her mom isn’t too thrilled about that one, but I think it has Grammy potential.
It didn’t hurt that when Izzy moved to Athens, her new daddy was a soccer coach at the University of Georgia. There’s a certain degree of minor celebrity attached to that. I don’t think Izzy ever flaunted it, but it surely gave her some mad street cred on the mean streets of the Athens Montessori school.
Izzy always got home from school before I got home from work, and every night when I walked in the door, she would come flying across the house and leap into my arms shouting, “DADDY!” I’m not exaggerating when I say this happened every. single. night. In four years her enthusiasm for my return never dipped. Regardless of whether I was old or outdated, and at this point I was both, it didn’t matter, because in Izzy’s eyes, I was cool.
I used to tell people that the day I walked through the door and Izzy didn’t run over to hug me, well, that was going to be one of the saddest days of my life. I knew that it would happen eventually. One day it surely would. It was just a matter of time.
In July we moved from Athens to a quiet community on the gulf coast of Florida. Izzy started a new school. She’s a sixth-grader now – a middle-schooler. Now she rides the bus. After two days in her new school, Izzy decided she wanted to ride her bike to the bus stop. So for the next three days, she and I would pedal to her bus stop. I would kiss her goodbye and then I would pedal on for a few more miles trying to reintroduce my body to this thing called exercise. Those morning rides with Izzy were the best part of my day.
On the fourth day, Izzy turned into a side street a block before her stop and went just far enough to be out of view of the kids who had already arrived. I pulled up next to her and she said, “Daddy, it’s okay if you want to say goodbye here.” It was her diplomatic way of telling me that it was embarrassing to have her dad ride with her to the bus stop. The time had come. Daddy needed to be jettisoned.
I didn’t show any disappointment. I just smiled and gave her an “Okay, Button.” I didn’t want Izzy thinking about the dagger she had just plunged deep into my heart then twisted like a bread tie. I didn’t want to saddle her with the guilt of breaking my soul into a million little pieces and grinding it to dust. None of that was her fault. It’s just part of growing up. But the day had finally come. Once again, I was so uncool.
I still ride with Izzy to that street. She gives me a hug and a kiss and we say our I love yous. Then I pedal on in stealth to save her from the horror of being the kid who has the dad who rides with her to the bus stop.
I took Izzy shoe-shopping in the mall on Friday afternoon. As malls are the undisputed incubators for preteen socialization, it was no surprise that we would cross paths with a few other kids from her class as we meandered past the storefronts. When she saw them, I expected her to dart off in their direction and commence that high-pitch, wounded-coyote squeal thing that girlfriends do when they’ve been apart for more than ten minutes.
Instead, Izzy took my hand and waved as we walked by.
That kid is so freaking cool.
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