Her red eyes and splotchy face told me all I needed to know. Dad, I didn’t make the team.
She had surprised us by expressing a desire to try out for the drill team—she, being our middle daughter who has not taken dance since she was three like some of her peers. We gave our support and prayed for her on the big day. Sometimes the prayers of a righteous man availeth much and sometimes they don’t. Can you tell me about it, kiddo?
She did, describing a situation where two girls called in sick propelling her to first on the list to tryout and then the music wasn’t cued correctly and then she missed a step early on that caused everything else to be off just enough to notice…and then more tears. I’m so sorry. And I’m so proud of you. My daughter searched my eyes for clarification. You didn’t win today, but you were brave and that’s what counts. Then more tears. That’s how moments like that go—rain, clear, rain again. Some parental experts advise repetition in such situations, just keep saying it: you were brave, you were brave. But I opted for old-school and gave my daughter the best hug I had. She received my embrace, but she didn’t melt into me like when she was small. She has grown braver since then, able to wobble on her own two feet.
Still, I did want her to hear that but you were brave line. I also wanted to hear it with my own ears. Earlier that week I spoke up at work in what was billed as a brainstorming meeting. I felt there’d been a little too much brain and not enough storming, so I offered a completely bonkers idea that was met with sneers, jeers, and finally a higher up’s coup de grâce—I really don't think that’ll work at all. I’m a forty-five-year-old man, but in that moment I felt like a freshman girl who didn’t make the drill team. The ruthless furnace of this world can hurl a lot of shame at you, be ye young or old, and it’s good in those moments to have a lifeline to grab, something like but you were brave. No one spoke such a line to me that day, but I’m learning to speak it to myself, a discipline the poet David Whyte refers to as waking your own sense of captaincy.
After the hug, I shared my workplace experience with my daughter: the comments, the sneers, the shame, the lifeline—the whole shebang. I’d love to tell you it was a Hallmark moment, but it wasn’t. She listened to me, but then her own reality rushed back in, as it does—rain, clear, rain again. And that’s fine by me, for I am learning that such wobbly risk is the only way to practice the discipline of captaincy, to rouse ourselves so that we may one day be unutterably the selves we were created to be. Yes, today we must be brave fathers and daughters, for that’s what counts.