“Mom, the waitress kept saying ‘lady’ to me!” She was a little surprised, but also really proud to be addressed this way at our date. In a few weeks our oldest daughter Noélani will turn 8 and it was about time for some daddy-daughter quality time.
Four years ago we decided that is would be important for this daddy to create some special moments with his daughters. We then agreed that by the time the girls would turn four years old, I would go on a date with each of them, at least once a year. I still remember my first date with Noélani really well. Her restaurant of choice was Vapiano, at the bottom of the huge building of the public library next to Amsterdam Central Train Station. We were still living in Amsterdam North which meant that we had to take the ferry to cross the river ‘IJ’ that separates the North from the rest of Amsterdam. By the time we finally got to the restaurant Noélani had just managed to wait for the toilet. I was scared I would be having a date with wet pants… While ordering the food, several toilet runs and paying the bill I had a brief moment of fearing to have lost her in the crowd, but in the end we both returned from an amazing first date.
“I love you, daddy…”
Now this was almost four years later. Last night it was about time for us to go out again. We had been looking forward to this for months now and finally the time had come. Our goal: the Bazar on the Albert Cuypmarkt. “Because that’s where you took mommy on a date as well.” And because the weather wasn’t the greatest we decided to take a tram together. On the tram we were just chatting away, looking out the window while we could see the brightly lighted city of Amsterdam pass in front of us. I put my arm around Noélani and she pushes herself closer to me while she keeps looking out the window quietly. If we would have gone home after this tram ride the night would already have been a great succes.
Somewhere deep inside I feel questions arising about what others might be thinking when this dad and his daughter would enter the restaurant. “Moslty the dads have the kids on the weekends, right?” Or maybe: “How sad that there’s no mom for this child…” Why are we doing this again?
Once arriving at the Bazar we’re trying to find a good spot for the two of us and the waitress shows up to ask ‘the lady’ what she would like to drink. Noélani is enjoying the moment as she sips her freshly pressed orange juice, bouncing on the springs in her too large seat and admires the lights on the ceiling. This is a great time to have some conversations about school, friends, good things in life, but also the not-so-good-things in the life of a 7 year old. Then all of a sudden she asks me, “would you like to tell me something nice?” Well, that sounded like a great idea to me. “Do you know why I’m taking you out on a date?” I ask her. “Going on a date is something really special, so… I would only do that with someone who is really special to me!” Noélani just sits there quietly for a moment, she moves her chair way back so that she can actually get off it, walks around the table to approach me and gives me a long quiet hug. The best hug of the year, from my own daughter, right in the middle of this restaurant with all these observing people around us. “I love you, daddy.”
When I think about my role as a father in the lives of our kids I feel this huge privilege, but also an incredible pressure to be a good dad to them. And that is a chance that I will only get once. Especially in the busy-ness of daily life I know that it can be really tricky to just kind of move along without actually taking the time to show each other what really matters in life. And if I would be really honest, I think that might just be one of my biggest fears as a dad: being busy with all kinds of beautiful things, changing the world for Jesus, always ‘ready to serve’ and meanwhile my own kids can queue up at the end of the line. The pastor’s kid syndrome: “God is the one who took my dad away from me.”
And that’s why we do this. Not as some sort of bandaid on a wound for when daddy’s gone traveling again, but just to pause and take a moment to show one another what really matters. Who is the one that is special enough to take them on a date… Looking each other into the eyes and realising that we are there for each other. Creating a little moment for daddy and daughter. Daddy and Noélani, just the two of us. And then next time daddy and Loïs. And Luan. But then we’ll go hunting.