FLINT - The problem with parenting is there's no instruction manual.
No one tells you, for instance, that you'll spend the first year of your kid's life wishing he'd go to sleep, and his high school years wondering if he'll roll out of bed on the weekend in time for dinner.
No one tells you about how you'll someday refer to the years between kindergarten and second grade as "the lost years" because of the Disease of the Week that came home from that petri dish that people charitably call a school.
No one tells you how utterly terrifying it is to sit in the passenger seat while your 15-year-old kid pilots the family car for the first time on public streets with unsuspecting citizens, pets and mailboxes all around. (Now that it's past, I can tell you how you feel: You want to stick your head out the window and yell, "Flee! Save yourselves. It's too late for me.")
To be fair, no one tells you about the good stuff either - the smiles, the hugs, the little triumphs, how cool it is to see your kid get his first tooth, ride his first bike and graduate from high school.
Still, couldn't someone have given me a heads up on how rotten boys are at aiming? (Really, guys - the wall?) Couldn't someone have told me what a gut punch it is when your daughter informs you that she has accepted her first date?
That one happened to me recently. I was not pleased, although I think I tried not to show it. Things are a blur. All I remember is one moment, life was normal.
And the next my stomach tickled the way it does when you crest the highest peak on a rollercoaster. Except there was no "Wheeee!" afterward. There was only a feeling of life changing forever, and not necessarily for the better.
I remember muttering to myself, "And so it begins..."
And I'm not even sure what "it" means. I just know that from here on out a larger and larger part of Annie's heart and soul will rest with others, and not me. That's a difficult pill to swallow for a guy who thinks the sun and moon rise and fall on her command.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. I shouldn't feel like that. It's a beautiful thing. She's growing up. It's a milestone. Blah, blah, blah.
I'd think those things too about someone else's daughter going on her first date. But this is MY daughter. Platitudes don't seem to fit. Selfishness feels right. Unjustified, but right.
You know that stale sitcom bit where the protective dad oils up a shotgun when his daughter's first date is coming over? I swear I wanted to do that. I wanted to sit in a rocker on my front porch in greasy coveralls cradling 'ol Betsy - the name I'd give my shotgun if I owned one. She'd of course be loaded with buckshot. No, I don't know what that is.
As he came up the front walk, I'd say, "You her date? Well, I'm her Paw. And I got me a mean streak - you unnerstand?" Then I'd spit ostentatiously and let the message soak in.
So I guess I'm just not ready. And probably never will be. The milestones in her life are zipping past too fast, like trees you try to look at through the side window of your car.
I know what happens next: First dates become second dates, and second dates become relationships, and relationships ultimately yield "the one," and before I know it somebody else's kid will be waiting for my kid at the top of altar. My job will be to walk her down the aisle, her arm hooked in mine, and release her unto the groom.
When it's time, I swear to God, I may not let go.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.