I have never written much about my daughter in this space. That is not what it’s for. I do recognize that in its origins nearly twenty years ago this coming August I would pepper these paragraphs with personal anecdotes and even deign to dedicate entire columns to the incredible happenstance of my marriage and the woman that I somehow convinced to love me. But I always saw those more as trite sociological deconstructions than any true profession of emotion that were nonetheless done with great care. Some people were even kind enough to call them romantic, which I think says more about the passing generation’s appalling lack of poetry than anything else.
But I had something happen to me this past week that has never happened before. And for someone only a few months from 55 years of age that is oddly monumental. On Saturday, June 10, Scarlet Moore Campion, nine years old with a considerable shy streak that would never dare imagine doing anything in front of strangers much less family and friends, performed in her first piano recital. She’s only been playing for what…a year and half at most? And a good portion of it has been accompanied by the type of hemming and hawing and general whining that would make lesser humans than my wife or her lovely teacher, Chloe Nevill, crack.
Good thing they didn’t, because despite all of it my girl kicked ass. Of course she did. I doubt I would dedicate a column to abject failure in the face of everything I have written above, but it wasn’t just the ass-kicking that plied me with the kind of bizarre awe that I have only read about. And it was also far beyond parental pride or a relief that this little person that I held in my arms within minutes of her passing through the birth canal was now sitting at a piano on a stage and performing a piece she learned on an instrument I could barely conceive. It was…what? Love, yes, but I would say it was more like a suspended moment of existential truth. It was as if I could grasp the surrealistic concept of joy, or at least understood it was possible. Like maybe if a butterfly had landed on my shoulder and handed me its novel.
Sure I was nervous for her, especially when she clutched my arm upon her microphone introduction and whispered, “Dad, I’m scared.” But I figured that much. Yet, as she walked up there and set her music down (eventually, since she forgot it at first) in front of the keyboard and began to play there was a visceral transformation in my DNA. It was shuffled around and put back together in an Escher rendering figured by William Blake’s dream. I tried explaining all this to some artist friends the other night and I think we came to the conclusion that I had an out-of-body experience. I am fairly certain that my daughter’s actions distilled my corporal foundation from water and tissue into the ether and back again, leading to the stunning realization that I existed; but not as the guy writing this, but an extension of my daughter’s…let’s say, spirit, whatever the hell that is—I don’t know what it is, but it’s there and I was part of it and it was damned cool.
An old friend of mine, Rich Mattalian, who ended up being the participant in my first published book titled Deep Tank Jersey, once told me, and I paraphrase here, that you don’t really know love until you have a kid. It sounds maudlin and gratuitous, especially when he told me twenty years ago when the very thought of offspring was silly. I never wanted a kid. Not this myopic, selfish, easily distracted boy/man with rage issues and a penchant for substance abuse. Just putting children around me is dangerous. Making one? Being responsible for its life, safety, personality and overall psychological make-up is to put it mildly pure madness. Then my wife and I had to go and have, and really did want, a girl.
I have come to understand from song and story that apparently fathers are pretty important to young women. So to say terror has been my main go-to emotion during the course of this purported meander through fatherhood for the past nine cycles around the sun is somewhat like saying the Grand Canyon is a hole in the ground.
You see, until Saturday fatherhood was a mystery to me. I’ve had many ups and downs with it, as anyone who has kids must. This is not unusual, I guess. I mean, it took me all of five seconds to understand the scope and depth of the idea of it. I loved my daughter immediately without combing its intellectual aspects from day-one. Strangely enough it is how I found my wife; all instinct and no pragmatism; the entire thing was like a car accident. You look up and you’re in it. No plan there. I have even kind of, sort of understood Scarlet and she may have understood me at some point. This never seemed to coalesce the way it did for me Saturday. There were stolen frozen moments in time, but not like this.
We could dance together and crack each other up, and damn it if we don’t both love NYC. To be fair, I kind of brainwashed her. Whenever we were left alone together from her initial months on the planet I would whisk her down to Washington Square Park or the Bleecker Street Playground and then I’d wheel her around and hell if she didn’t dig the sirens and yelling and cabs and weirdos and sensations of the place as much as her old man. But beyond those things, fatherhood was something akin to holding onto a wild animal that at once could take your jugular and explode into a million crystals.
I have no words for this. Epiphany is bullshit. Okay, it’s like that one crescendo in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (also known as the “Ode To Joy”, because, well, you know he had to know) when it just goes wooooooooooo and takes off and it goes from outside of you where you were listening and burrows deep inside the you that was there before you heard it but is now somewhere in the composer’s head, as if you were fool enough to believe you were the one composing it. And I know Ol’ Ludwig tickled the ivies and it’s a tortured metaphor, but it’s honestly what I thought of…like being inside of something all of a sudden. There must be some kind of religious or psychological term for this phenomenon. But whatever it is, I had it.
I still don’t know diddly about any of it. But I know this, seeing Scarlet up there playing the piano under a spotlight amidst the breathing and shuffling of people I have never seen and will likely never see again and having the whole thing suspend in the air of both time and space and then stumble back down into what I now choose to call fatherhood is one of the greatest things I have experienced. Better than being published. Better than being alive. Better than knowing that I won’t be alive at some point so it’s good to be alive.