The nurse handed over my first-born wrapped in a tiny pink blanket. Transfixed, I gazed into her angelic face while wondering what in the heck I was going to do.
Thirteen months later, this same scene repeated itself.
A Midwesterner by birth, my only goal upon college graduation was moving to Montana to become a mountain man. I moved to Montana; but instead of being swept downriver by a rushing current, I was swept off my feet by a woman. We married and had two daughters.
Before I ever arrowed an elk, I was back in the Midwest.
Football, fishing and hunting, these are the things I understand. I was supposed to have sons. I was going to teach them the thrill of busting through the line to smash a running back, the many advantages of a slip-bobber and the importance of always keeping the wind in your face. I was meant to date cheerleaders, not raise them.
But sons weren’t in the cards for me, and now, nine years later, I thank God every day.
Being a father of daughters is the greatest gift a man’s man will ever know. My little girls have developed my softer side, and I am a better human being because of them. Hugs and kisses everyday, resounding laughter, intense curiosity, curled lips and crocodile tears constantly pull at different heart strings, and responding to each unique daddy/daughter situation is a test I never prepared for.
The give-and-take of my relationship with my daughters requires a level of carefulness void from other aspects of my aggressive nature.
As a new father of a baby girl, everyone wants to tell you, “Girls like the outdoors, too.” But you don’t believe them. It’s “fisherman,” not “fisherwoman.” You know it won’t be the same. And it’s not. But in many ways, it’s better.
One reason it’s better is because you pay closer attention to girls. You remain more present in the moment. Males are hard-wired to be protective of females, and on the water and in woods it shows. I’ve observed friends, great dads, with their sons. It’s different. Their leash is longer.
Bailee is now 9, and Annabel is 8. They’re amazing and similar in a lot of ways. They’ve had no chance to escape the wonders of nature in our household, and thankfully they have each embraced the outdoors. They share a pony and an outstanding Labrador. They’re gleeful when they hear the whistle of a bobwhite quail. They know the value of morel mushrooms, even though they don’t like the taste, yet.
As much as they share, their profound differences are also apparent.
Bailee is a hunter. She’s incredibly athletic and has inherited my competitive, aggressive nature. She killed a turkey on her first hunt when she was 7. This past spring, she cried when she missed. Bailee fishes, camps, hikes and turns over rocks in the river just to see what’s crawling on the bottom. She wants to skydive. I won’t let her.
Annabel is a butterfly. She floats through life. Her nickname is “Oppsy,” because trees and rocks have a way of jumping out in front of her. Letting a breeze sway her hammock as she draws pictures is her paradise. She’s also found joy in fly fishing, which is fitting. Fly fishing requires a concentrated aloofness.
She and I took a trip, just the two of us, to Arkansas last winter. We spent three days fishing and floating. With each trout she pulled from Dry Run Creek, her confidence grew. It was like watching a balloon fill until popped. Then she’d want to go take pictures of birds.
Grandsons would be cool someday. But for now, life as a father of daughters couldn’t be better. I never suspected love this intense could exist nor that it could be so fun giving myself to these two tiny creatures who scare me senseless, yet motivate my every next move.
Raising cheerleaders, and they both do go to cheer camp, was not the dream of this wanderlust, wannabe mountain man. Today, all I can say is, “Give me a D, give me an A, give me a U, give me a G, give me a H, give me a T, give me an E, give me a R, give me a S. What’s that spell, HAPPINESS.”
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler’s outdoors column appears Saturdays in the Daily Journal. Send comments to email@example.com.