The Week I got to be Sophie’s Friend

I had a week off from work in April. I took the vacation time because my daughter would otherwise be alone at home with one more week of Spring break, and she’s only 11.

So with just Sophie and me in the house – her brother back in school, her mom at work – I wasn’t sure how things would go. I love Sophie as any normal father would. We’re front and center in each others lives but I didn’t know if we were close.

Sophie is a girl who likes girl things. She’s always identified closely with her sex, and I think that’s why she’s identified more easily with her mother than with me. When she confides in one of us, it’s Karen. When she wants advice she asks her mom.

I wonder if she sees me as the man in the house who makes her practice harp. I do that, she’s right, and you can’t expect small kids to be appreciative or sentimental about what a father means to them. Daddy? He’s the one who makes me practice harp.

There would be some of that this week but on Monday I decided to get her to do something else. As she lay on the family-room couch looking at something on her iPhone I said, Let’s go for a bike ride. Without looking away from the phone she pulled a frown and said that would be too… something. Difficult? Time consuming? There was no good place to go? I can’t remember.

But she agreed in the end so we drove to the next neighborhood, Talmadge, which is broad and flat with plenty of nice homes to look at. The streets were quiet so we rode side by side, talking about families from her school who lived there, though we weren’t sure where their houses were. In a gentrified slice of the neighborhood there was a tiny park surrounded by the circle of a street. A roundabout I suppose. We got off our bikes and Sophie walked through the tidy plantings in the middle, letting her thoughts wander as I sat nearby.

There was a day when Sophie pulled my old box of comics out of a closet. I have about two dozen Marvel comics from 1967 that I collected as a kid. They may be worth a few bucks since some are in the great condition. Sophie has become a fan of Marvel movies starring Thor, Captain America, the Black Widow and so forth. So she paged through my old comics, maybe thinking I was a little bit cool for having them.

One night I made a fire outside on the deck, and she joined me there and read aloud the “Epic-Length 22-page Battle!” between Submariner and the Incredible Hulk from beginning to end. I stared at the fire and the sparks rose and disappeared into the air as she read every cornball line spoken by the two superheroes, and by the evil guy who had managed to control the Hulk’s mind and force him to attack. She read to me every SNOK! THOOM! And BTAM! to describe the super blows delivered in the story.

That night Sophie and I shared something that was just between us; something that was fun and funny and that I’m sure will be unforgettable, at least for me. Later that week she also read me a list of cities in San Diego she found on her phone that were ranked by rates of obesity. National City was number one. She showed me the new phone case she got during a trip to the mall with her friend Vicky. She and I took another bike ride and we went down to her grandparents’ condo to install a new lamp.

I finally took the time to take a close look at who she was, and some of it looked familiar. Like the way she’d wander into the canyon behind our house. It’s like the way I used to cross the street when I was a kid and walk through a big patch of half-empty fields, looking for some adventure maybe even if it was only something that happened in my mind.

On Friday, I was in the house when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. For a split second I saw a woman dressed for work. I thought it was Karen. But it was Sophie, wearing her mom’s clothes. She wore a light brown skirt, a white blouse and a brown jacket and carried a matching handbag. She was wearing Karen’s pumps on her feet and they fit.

My daughter is big for her age and she acts older than she is. Now – even though she was playing dress-up – it was a clear picture of who she soon would be, if God treated us kindly. You see your children pull further away from you as they become adults. You just hope they don’t stray too far and they remain your friends.

But for at least a week, I got to see Sophie be funny, to see her wander in silence and try to think of stuff to talk about as we were just hanging out. I got to be Sophie’s friend.


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