“You never know what’s right around the corner,” my mom reminds me when I struggle with being single or having a dull career.
“You just never know.”
I love the hope her words provide, and I know they ring true. I was never certain I’d become a mom or a homeowner, and now I’m two for two. And I’ve found her words resonate in other areas, like with my dad’s relationship with my daughter.
Never would I have guessed they’d be like chocolate and peanut butter, coming together in a perfectly sweet way.
Growing up, my dad and I bonded over one thing – baseball. Before I could talk, I wore White Sox gear and sat on his lap watching games. As I got older, it was Sundays in the park with Dad, catching pop-ups and fielding grounders. It is, and has always been, our thing.
For a while, I suspected Autumn’s equivalent with her Papa was food. They shared sustenance I’d only entertain if I were starving on a desert island, like jelly with added sugar and very white bagels. She took over his lap, not to watch home runs and strikeouts, but instead to eat Corn Flakes and scones. It was a few months before realizing that unlike the bond my dad and I had with baseball, which was our only glue, food was just one of the flowers in the garden that is their relationship.
One Wednesday night, my dad chose to go for dinner with his friends. Autumn repeated the word she says a million times a day.
I broke the news.
“Papa isn’t home right now.”
She has a radio activated by placing magnetic figures on top, and she deliberately chose the one that plays recorded sounds instead of music.
“Hi, Autumn Joyce,” she heard. “This is Papa.”
If she couldn’t have her Papa, at least she had his voice. And when she hears that voice each morning, or his heavy footsteps down the stairs, I’m reminded of my younger self when the New Kids on the Block came on-stage. He is a rock star, an icon, and receives a greeting as such. He responds in kind, with squeals and delight upon seeing her. It sounds sweet, but it was getting a bit out of hand.
“What do you want for breakfast?” I’d ask.
“Papa.” she’d respond.
“I love you,” I’d whisper.
“Papa,” she’d say.
“What’s your favorite color?”
It wasn’t making sense in more ways than one. After all, I birthed her and nursed her. Why was Papa getting all the love?
“She likes him more,” I complained to my sister, who quickly set me straight. Being a mom means getting rid of my ego and putting my daughter front and center, and what a gift to have others do the same.
This past Saturday afternoon, I wasn’t feeling well.
“Please, Papa, can you take over?” I begged when she needed a new diaper.
But I didn’t have to plead, because he was ready and eager.
He placed his hand on her chest and spoke calmly. He lifted her, the air in the room no longer heavy and chaotic, but light and free. I couldn’t understand the words he spoke next door, but the tone was warm and non-judgmental. She was changed – in more ways than one – and they headed downstairs.
“It’s in there,” he told her, pointing to his coat pocket. He unzipped it, revealing a cherry Dum-Dum, the one picked special for her. She unwrapped it like Charlie did his chocolate in search of the golden ticket, eagerly but carefully. I realized then that my dad doesn’t need to unwrap candy — he already found his golden ticket in Autumn. She is his pot of jewels at the end of the rainbow. And I see the two of them, a montage in my mind. They wear matching honey-colored shirts and soft smiles while playing catch with their fake ball, reenacting scenes from Frozen, and co-hosting Happy Old Guys meetings because, after all, she is the President’s granddaughter.
When Autumn was born, I never interviewed for the job of dad, but somehow, Papa slipped into the dual role. He gets her sweatshirts when it’s chilly, advocates for her when I am frustrated (“She’s only one.”), and loves her more than even he ever knew possible.
Now when my mom says, “You never know what’s coming,” I think of my dad and Autumn — living proof that timing and conditions can come together perfectly and result in a flourishing relationship. It happened so unexpectedly, so organically, it gives me hope that in my life, too, there will be happy surprises.