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A Father's Thoughts On Prom Night

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I'm a world-class gasper. And for that, you can thank my daughter.

My inaugural gasp -- because of her -- came the day after she was born. It happened as I was looking through the viewing window in the hospital nursery. I was a big-eyed dad scanning the room for the one that was his.

"Not mine," I said to myself as my eyes slowly moved right-to-left. "That's not mine, either."

Then I saw a clear, plastic bassinet with a sleeping, curly-haired little girl swaddled in pink. The card above her head shared my last name. Handwritten in big, capital letters.

And I gasped.

Girls were a foreign language to me. I was raised in a family of boys. All boys and nothing but boys. That gasp masked a spectrum of ricocheting emotions -- excitement, fear, doubt, uncertainty, elation. And mostly, awe. Were I to ever find myself standing at the start line of the galaxy, gazing out into the vast, endless unknown ahead of me, I think I'd have the exact, same gasp.

My most recent gasp took place today at our local hair salon. Perhaps the people who work there are accustomed to gasping. Gasps over botched haircuts. Gasps over spectacularly coiffed hair. They must hear gasps all the time. My gasp, however, was for something quite different.

Tonight is prom. And my daughter asked me to stop by during her hair appointment to check out her updo. Whatever that is. So, I arrived at the hair salon about 15 minutes after her appointment time and was told by the teenage girl at the front desk to feel free to meander into the salon to find my daughter.

Once again I was the dad scanning a room looking for a little girl.

"Dad," I heard from her familiar voice. "Dad, I'm right behind you."

I turned and saw my daughter's brilliant eyes looking into a mirror. Her hair was already swirling up and around -- flowing and dangling and dancing. The familiar ponytail I saw most days was gone.

And all I could do was gasp.

In the proverbial blink of an eye, 18 years had zoomed by since I stood gazing at this unfamiliar object in the hospital nursery. That little seven-pound bundle grew up. Nicely. And, she's actually proven to be quite low-maintenance. She's adventurous. She's funny. She's loyal. She's strong. She's resilient.

Most of all, she's mine.

It's crazy, isn't it? 18 years ago this child had me gasping because I couldn't imagine my life with her.

Now, I gasp because I can't imagine my life without her.

This essay was named a finalist in the 2012 Erma Bomback Writing Competition.

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