7 pound, 8 ounces. 17 inches long. You had brown eyes, the colour of chocolate, and a shock of red hair. Your skin was soft and tan, it shouldn’t have gone with your red hair, but it did. You were the most perfect thing I had ever seen in my life. And the most terrifying. I knew in that moment that I would do anything to protect you.
I held you close and counted your finger, all ten present and accounted for. You looked up at me as I kissed your tiny little hands and I knew that you knew everything that could be known in the universe. You knew who I was; you also knew where you had come from. The next time I saw you, your skin had paled, your hair stripped of it redness. Your eyes were blue, your skin a creamy pinkish colour with chubby cheek the colour of roses, hair a soft, fine blonde.
You were four weeks old when you first smiled, and you smiled at me. Your mother said it was wind, but I knew it wasn’t. You had a special smile for me, it was the one lat nearly broke your face in half, and made your eyes so wide; it looked like the sky would come out of them. I loved you more than I ever thought possible, every day I realised I loved you more and more.
Your first day of school was something. You cried, your mother cried. I cried, a little bit but I won’t go into too much detail about that. There you were in your little uniform, pleated knee length skirts, a white polo necked t-shirt and a red jumper with the logo of your school on. Your Aladdin lunchbox gripped tightly in your hand holding the jam sandwiches and Drifter bars you loved.
When you went to secondary school, a little piece of me died. My little girl was no longer my little girl. Soon she would be a dreaded teenager, temper tantrums, make-up, underwear. Ugh. Where had my baby gone? Surely she wasn’t this person in front of me giving me lip for wanting her home by 8.30. You’re 11 I would say, where are you going to go that you would need to stay out past 8.30? But no matter how much lip you gave me, and how many times you forged my signature to get out of P.E. you were always my little girl, and you used to prove that to me on Christmas.
You would always wake up at the crack of dawn and try and go and open your presents, but your mother and I would always send you back to bed. Something you may not remember, we always used to put the presents under the tree. Why don’t we know? You ask. Well one Christmas, your Nan and Granddad decided to stay for Christmas and who did we find at midnight trying to sneak down the stairs but you and granddad, setting up a trap for Santa. It was after that night that we told Father Christmas to leave the presents in our room and he obliged, he didn’t appreciate traps.
My biggest dread came when you were seventeen. You came home from work. Daddy, you said, I’ve met someone, I think he’s the one. And I closed my eyes and wished to go back seventeen years and do them all again. Because I would gladly go through all of that again than for my little girl to come to me and tell me I’m not the only man in her life anymore. I told you that you were too young to be seeing anyone, but your mother told me not to be silly. She said that no matter what happens, women are still little girls and will always need their Dad’s to protect them, and it’s the same with boys and their mothers, before you go all feminist on me! You know what your Nan’s like to Mum when she’s had a few.
When I met this young fellow of yours, I told him, if you hurt one hair on my daughter’s head, I will string you up by your toes and leave you there. And I wasn’t joking, you know that don’t you, James? See, he knows. But he turned to me and he said, Sir, I won’t hurt your daughter, because I love her, she is the most precious thing in the world to me. And a little more of me let go.
When he asked me for permission to marry you, I told him as long as you said yes, what I said didn’t matter. As long as you loved him, and you wanted to spend the rest of your life with him, I understood. But I went home that night to your mother and I cried, because you didn’t need me anymore. You had him, and you would have him a lot longer than you would have me.
When I saw you this morning, dressed to the nines in that beautiful dress and your makeup, you looked like an angel. Like the angel I saw in that hospital room twenty four years ago. And I realised then that it didn’t matter how old you are, how old you look or act, you will always be that baby they handed to me so many years ago. Even when you refused to do your top button up and wore your school tie round your belly button, even when I had a call from the head teacher to say you were in detention. To me, you will always be that little girl with the sky in your eyes and the world in your brain. And you will always be my little girl and I will always be your loving father. I love you so much, darling, I wouldn’t have you any other way.
To my daughter, the beautiful bride.