This was written before Renae and Cale’s wedding. Max might one day enjoy reading about his “mama.”
On January 2, 1978 Rhonda Lynn Childers became my wife. We were both just under 21 and excited to begin a life together. Little did we know that we were incomplete. Like most young couples, you think you only need each other (and that’s true for the most part, until you realize that the children you have fill a spot that nothing else will). On November 30th of 1981 Renae Marie Cantrell entered our life. My second child, my first and only daughter. Her brother Ryan Dale preceded her in life on August 17th of 1980. Together they rounded out our “perfect family” a son and a daughter. Life had treated us more than fairly.
She was bright and attentive. She was bossy for sure, but God had blessed her with sufficient wisdom that her bossiness often became the salvation of her brother ~ the impulsive, rambunctious, happy go lucky person that she complimented well. She was verbal. So verbal in fact that I often lamented, “She’s begun talking and she can’t shut up.” Something about her made me realize very early on that she’d be a person in control of her life to whatever degree God would allow. And I was right.
Compassionate, lovable and eyes that indicated wheels were turning most of the time. It was a look I could relate to because I’d seen that look in the mirror. Brown eyes are a shared trait with my daughter. She loved Rainbow Brite and she loved to suck her ring finger. She enjoyed playing super hero with her brother. Donning their capes they flew around the house performing great feats known only to fictional characters. Somehow you knew in their moments of playing that reality just didn’t matter. For them, it became “real” if not real fun!
Worried that they’d clash as many brother and sister pairs do, our fears were not quite realized. They became best friends, she and her brother. She became his conscience. She became his playmate. She became his friend and confidant. We were proud of them both (still are).
How a couple is able to produce two children so different is beyond my comprehension. As I grow older I know it’s a blessing though. Often I wonder what impact environment has in the raising of children, but whether it’s genetic or circumstance our children are very, very different. Our daughter seemed to embody everything that our son did not. She was serious. He was fun-loving. She was verbal. He was not. She always considered consequences. He often failed to. She had fear. He had little. She had close friends, but kept the number small. He spread his friendships among many. She was comfortable playing alone. He never was. She was dark skinned with dark eyes. He was fair skinned with hazel/brown eyes. As I lean toward older age I know God has been good to me by giving me the best of both worlds. The world of my son and the world of my daughter. They round me out and make me better.
This daughter of ours loved us and we loved her. She was a lone girl among many boys. That made her special. She surely felt that. She was the top of the pyramid in every respect (the boys would often form a human pyramid and she’d be the crowing jewel…fitting). She was and still is very special in our life.
This child was sometimes thought of as a klutz until we realized she had one “lazy” eye. She entered kindergarten as a pirate with a patch over her “good” eye so as to force the lazy eye to work properly. She seemed unfazed by it all although deep down her parents felt badly for her (especially since we’d thought her clumsy). She endured. It would be a mark of her nature as she continued to grow. Enduring would be a trademark character trait. I continue to be thankful for that trait.
The patch came off and glasses went on. For a small child I’m not sure one is better than the other, but thankfully she had sight. The glasses gave her character, but not a book-wormish disposition. Her brother’s friends would come over only to be engaged in wrestling not only with him, but with her. Off came the glasses, on came the head lock! It was great fun. I miss those days. I didn’t enjoy them nearly enough. One of my many regrets as a father.
At night when I arrived home I’d often grab a blanket and under it I would go. She and her brother would jump all over me attempting to stay atop much like bull riders do at the rodeo. Never successful, they persisted any way. It would be her who might remark that we were veering far too close to the coffee table or the fireplace. Cautious and wise. Thinking ahead of the possibilities of injury. Consequences on her mind.
Sometimes I wonder what memories she has of me as a young father clueless about dealing with children. I hope I wasn’t too harsh, but I’m fearful that too often I was. I hope I wasn’t unsupportive, but I believe I often was. What father can say he has no regrets? Foolish ones, that’s who. I loved her so much, but fear I didn’t tell her nearly enough, or put her in my lap often enough, or read to her often enough, or listen to her often enough. Middle age strikes me now and I don’t feel I did anything positive “enough.”
This daughter of ours grew and developed as the years rolled by. The traits we’d seen in early childhood continued. She was as she’d always been. Determined. Sober. Verbal.
I have ties to this daughter of mine that perhaps few fathers do. We’re alike in many ways. I’m uncertain if that’s the case with most fathers and daughters. While most fathers love their daughters (and I do, too), perhaps too few like them as much as I like mine. Kindred spirits who understand each other better than most. It’s a nice tie that binds.
Junior high (I’m sorry, today it’s called “middle school”) came and with it the frustrations of being a young Christian. The world beckons to engage in things foreign to God’s people. Her understanding that she was different went back as far as she could remember. She didn’t wear what her friends often wore. She didn’t go places where they often invited her. These years appeared to be her loneliest, but she endured. She would confront volleyball coaches on her own to explain why she could not wear the attire of the other girls. When asked if she wanted us to talk to the coach, she’d always tell us that she could do it. And she would. The “eye patch” years were not over for her. I knew there would others ahead, but I was always proud of her endurance and commitment to remain true.
Boys were never at the top of her priority list. She liked boys and always seemed to have friends who were boys, but this young lady would not be defined by a boy or a relationship with one. She was her own person and understood God’s demands of her sex, but her strength didn’t hinge on a boy. While the daughters of others were going through “boy crazy” years, we never saw those in our house. I’m grateful.
I knew her well enough to know the look. The quest was clear. A soul mate. A friend like no other. That’s what she lacked. That’s what she was searching for, and waiting for. I also knew her determination would cause her to patiently wait until he came along or until she ferreted him out from wherever he was hiding.
College came too soon. We could hardly believe that both our children were growing into adulthood quicker than we’d realized. The classroom was a competition. The one trait shared among all four members of our family (I’m sure there are others, but this one jumps out at me) is the competitive fire. Never satisfied to be outdone she excelled in the classroom. That doesn’t mean she was top in her class. She wasn’t, but she was always near the top. School didn’t dominate her life, but if it must be done, then it must be done well. Else, what’s the point?
A young man entered her life. Whether he was ferreted out of the rural areas of Oklahoma or whether he ferreted her out of the big city I’m not sure. However it happened, they found each other. Uncertain if this relationship would blossom I watched it continue as none had before. In time I’d see the seriousness of it and understand her motive to fast track her college career. There was little doubt that marriage was forthcoming. And I didn’t fear they’d jump too soon without taking care of educational requirements first.
Three years of college produced a degree. To the amazement of everybody she set her mind to do whatever it took to put college behind her. Soon, she’d be in a classroom of a different sort, her own classroom as a teacher. My little girl had gone from peering over a counter in downtown Ada for a sample of candy to teaching her own high school Spanish class. And she was engaged to be married. We were both growing older. I was growing more proud.
Many details later here we stand at the verge of a wedding that I hadn’t thought much about until recently. Glad that she found her soul mate. Hopeful that together they’ll have a wonderful life. Hopeful that she’ll continue to impact the lives of people as she has mine. Hopeful she’ll be happy!
My life will be different now. She’ll surrender my last name. She’ll become a wife. She’s gone from baby, to little girl, to young woman, to college graduate, to high school teacher to soon-to-be wife. And it’s happened so fast that I’m sure I’ve missed much.
Six miles will separate us geographically, but a lifetime together will bind us.
When a daughter gets married moms may cry. Dads cry too. Not tears of sadness, but tears of pride, hope, joy (and a bit of sadness of childhood lost). I honestly can say I’ve enjoyed every phase of my children’s lives. My wife and I have never attempted to hang onto the past phase. We’ve always embraced the coming phase. We’re embracing this one too and looking forward to the rewards and challenges. Our roles will be new. We’re up for it. It’s time we learned some new things. My sadness is that I don’t feel I had enough time to master the ones I’m leaving behind. I’ve got so much to learn. And I’m happy that I have a daughter who will soon marry to teach me.
A new home will be born in about a week. My daughter will become the architect of her own home. She’ll move on to build a new life. My place in her life will certainly be different, but somehow I’m still the dad under the blanket and she’s still the little girl with her glasses off riding my back for all she’s worth.
Wednesday, December 10, 2003