Every night that I can, the girls beg me to lay in bed with them and tell them stories. I’m retelling the same ones over and over and they won’t let me leave. “Just one more daddy, please.” Who can resist “Daddy”? One of my go-to’s is this monumental mistake of parenting that I like to think any of you could have made too.

Sunday afternoons are made for naps- especially Sunday afternoons in the middle of winter. Sunday clothes off, sliding into the cool sheets with a dozen blankets on top. Sleeping so hard and so long that the winter sun sets before you wake. But let’s be honest, I can nap in any season, in any temperature.

We had just moved into our brand-new house that Tiffanni and I built in 2007. My girls were 3 and 2 and it was one of those wintery afternoons. We all laid down and I was asleep in minutes. I’ve always been a light sleeper and I was startled out of my sleep when I heard the front door slam shut. “Surely that was just a dream.” I laid there debating, eyes refusing to open, “Could someone have just broken into my house?” And then it hit me, “The girls!”

I darted into their room and found empty beds. My heart pounding, I ran back to my room, threw on a pair of pants (why is it called a pair again?) and shot out the door. My guess is that every parent has felt that feeling. The one where you beg God to let everything be ok, “Just please let me find my girls.” And at the same time think, “I’m going to kill them.” I ran around the house, looked up and down the street, and heard a faint cackle. From my driveway, I saw them- playing on the next-door neighbors’ swing set. Wearing Disney princess dresses, and plastic fake high-heels, they were sliding and swinging and didn’t even realize that their hands and feet were numb from the cold. Their rosy cheeks would foreshadow the soon-to-be color of their behinds.

I’m a prisoner of the moment, my current mood affects my memory, but the way I remember it- I always wanted two girls first. Tiff and I only had girl names picked out those first two rounds. I never flinched at carrying pink dressed, pig-tailed, non-stop talkers in one arm and a blinged out Alicia Silverstone Clueless-themed diaper bag on the other. It was estrogen central there for a little while and I loved every minute of it.

Every night I go into the girls’ rooms and talk and pray with them. My prayer is some slight variation of, “Jesus, thank you for my beautiful princesses, give them a good night sleep and sweet dreams.” I want them to feel like a princess forever.

As a youth minister, a lot of event flyers and postcards come across my desk every week. A few weeks ago, I got a flyer for Winterjam- a concert with 10 different artists at the BJCC for only $10. For the first time ever in life, and I’ve taken teens on hundreds of outings over the last twenty years, I thought, “This would be perfect for my girls. I think I’ll plan a youth trip.”

I never imagined planning an entire event with teenagers just to watch the faces of my daughters light up as they rocked out to bands that I’ve never heard of. I remember my Petra, Carmen, and DC Talk concerts vividly, dressing up to fit the part, to join the mood. I envisioned the girls in their light make-up, hairsprayed locks, and pre-teen interpreted rocker looks. But not my girls. There’s no time for rock when there’s a ball to attend.

As fate would have it, I didn’t pay attention to the calendar and Winterjam landed on the same night as their Spring Formal. They had to make a decision- rock out with dad or doll up with their friends.

So, off they went one way and I the other. Dressed to the nines, sequined ball gowns, carted in a Toyota pumpkin to forget the world for a night and pretend that dances and boys and music and make-up were how us adults would live our lives if we could do whatever we wanted. Growing up too fast for too many reasons that I can’t control, it wasn’t so much of a dad rejection as it was a childhood rejection which seems to be all too obvious lately. My baby girls aren’t babies anymore and I hate it. Not completely hate it, but I would do the last 13 years all over again and again like Groundhog day if it was an option.

Every dad needs a girl to keep him soft. To keep him from thinking manhood is about toughness and mettle, authority and machismo. But having little girls isn’t about me at all, not about what it does or can do for me. It’s all about the gift I have been given to deeply love, support, and assist in shaping the beautiful and tender, strong-willed and defiant, life-rich and creative princesses that God gave me- pink worlds and all. I’m very pleased with the young ladies that they are becoming, but today I’m most pleased that when the clock strikes midnight, the dresses transformed back to t-shirts and pajama bottoms, and all of the pomp and glitter is gone, they climb in the bed with daddy and beg me to tell them another story.