I make bread now. A lot of it.
It’s nothing fancy. Nothing with yeast, just those simple ones — pumpkin bread, apple bread, banana — with the fruit left on the counter, darkening. My daughter (she’s 15 now) likes the squash bread I spice with cardamom. I want to elevate the bread, even if it is simple, with cardamom, high-class cinnamon. She hacks off a slice, still warm from the oven, and carries it back into her bedroom. The door closes. I’m left to clean up the kitchen.
She was my best friend growing up. This is to say, when she grew up from tot to teen, I grew up, too. In all that time we were best friends. We did everything together. We could have long conversations about the importance of art and what happens after death; and we could ride scooters in the neighborhood and laugh about farts; we’d go to art galleries, looking for those Renaissance paintings with the weird babies in them; we’d skip rope; we’d climb trees; we’d trick-or-treat so hard that the candy would last the entire year.
She’d go to funerals with me. I’d go to dance recitals with her. We’d go food shopping and ride roller coasters and sit in baseball bleachers cheering on poorly run teams. We’d do homework, read books, watch movies. We’d go to musicals, visit Johnny Appleseed’s grave, play putt-putt golf. We'd attend weddings, visit campgrounds and Grandma's house, tour candy factories. We’d play Clue, wade in the ocean, go to birthday parties, pet sloths, juggle, ride horses, dream, think, wish, hope, remember. This is a small, woefully small, list. She was my best friend. I was her father — caring for her and about her — constantly. Always.
When she grew up from tot to teen, I grew up, too.
Now, she’s got new best friends and I make bread. How common is this lament? I’m barely wanted in her day-to-day orbit.
This isn’t to say we’ve had a falling out. No, we love each other like we always have and always will. It’s just that she doesn’t show it anymore and she certainly doesn’t want me to.
We don’t hug. I can no longer put her on my shoulders. When we go out to dinner, I don’t have to cut up the meat for her. I don’t have to help her with her math. I don’t have to turn the bath water to the right temperature. I don’t comb her hair. We don’t go to many movies. I’m driving her to driver’s ed. She wants a VW. She wants to be behind the wheel. She wants me in the rearview mirror.
My identity was tied to her and those tethers are loosening, or are gone completely. What does that make of me? Who am I now that we’re both no longer what we were?
She’s a teenager. She doesn’t talk to me. She doesn’t want to do anything with me. She doesn’t do much of anything but except, of course, everything: learning who she is, becoming herself. When did I become the person I am? We all grow up, all the time, and what am I now?
I think about getting a tattoo sometimes. A tattoo of an ampersand to remind me I’m more than I think I am. I am a father AND. I am a friend AND.
She loves me deeply. I, her. I want nothing more than everything for her. I don’t have to provide most of that anymore. How wonderful, that. That she can take everything for herself and by herself. She can do anything she wants, or, at least, can strive for it.
I witness that, silently, every day as she goes about her day without me. Her earbuds are in. Her phone is glowing. Her teen-rattled heart is beating awkwardly and strong.
I want to be needed but there’s no need for that. It’s the most beautiful and most challenging thing for me as parent right now. I don’t know what to make of any of it.
So I make bread.
I knock on her door. She snarls. I tell her it’s just out of the oven. She sullenly brushes past me. She gets her slice and then retreats back to her room. She nearly says “Thank you.”
There are some silences in the kitchen that nearly sound like love. There are crumbs on the table. I clean them off and put them in my mouth. They taste so sweet.