Lily swallowed and returned her near-empty beer to the tabletop. A half second and quarter smile later, she said, “God, Dad, even when I was a kid, you’d say how it’s important to be able to giggle with someone.”
We were across from each other at an outside bar at close to eleven on the first good weather night of 2013 celebrating our first public drink together since Lily turned twenty-one.
We were also dissecting my most recent failed attempt at romance.
“It was frustrating,” I offered. “He had a big heart and treated me like a queen. But he couldn’t make me laugh.”
“Don’t worry about it, Dad. I understand why you told him it wasn’t working.”
I shifted from self-pity to inquisitive parent and asked about upcoming finals and an impending overseas trip. Lily volunteered about various dorm life dramas, some of which she helped to spawn. We talked politics and family and reminisced about what life had been like in Iowa, where she lived with me for three years post-divorce.
I have two daughters, with Lily being the younger. She’s Korean and adopted, which means that she had tremendous baggage even before I held her for the first time at five months old. Lily also had some serious health challenges while in Korea, which she survived—I’m convinced—solely through the power of the human spirit. That spirit’s never ebbed for Lily, which has made for one very persistent, and at times extremely passionate, infant-adolescent-teenager-young woman.
“Be honest,” Lily started. “What do you think about my haircut?”
By then, we were on our second round of drinks. I looked at my daughter’s jet black hair and crescent moon eyes. What had been shoulder-length hair was now a pageboy cut.
“Very cute,” I answered, meaning it too, but also missing a look that I’d long been accustomed to.
I’ll admit it: I’m not always great with change.
Lily, on the other hand, can handle change with deft. After all, she went from a loving and safe nuclear family to a father moving out so that he could explore his gender and sexual identities. Five years later, “Ed” and “Dad,” became “Ellen.” All of that caused serious trauma for family and friends, yet Lily remained a steadfast ally.
“I understand,” she said as the disruptions in her former wonderful life began. She was young then—real young, barely age twelve. I thought, How in the world can you understand?
Yet, she moved in with me in 9th grade, and began to meet my GLBT friends. She soon became the only straight kid in her high school gay-straight alliance group.
When her mother persisted in calling me “Ed,” Lily, then eighteen, intervened. “You need to respect Dad,” she told my ex, Lydia. “His name is Ellen now and that’s what you need to call him.” She even extracted Lydia’s promise to use “Ellen” from that moment forward.
Lily’s advocacy worked. Ever since, Lydia has only called me “Ellen.”
Oh, Lily! What a gift, pronouns notwithstanding.
It’s not always been easy. Lily and I are both strong-willed—that’s putting it mildly—which has made for many heated moments and shed tears. Both of us are prone to yelling, regretful words, and pushed buttons. Occasionally, we’ve needed time-outs away from each other.
Still, we’ve always doubled back to forgive and forget. Which, in part, is what made our first drinks out in public so special.
Like I’ll-never-forget-this-moment special.
As the night grew older, Lily reminded me about Door County where the Krug family had made a thousand other good memoires a decade ago. In an instant, I was back in Door, with Lydia and our two daughters. Lily brought up how after dinner, we’d walk to the hotel on a quiet blacktopped lane in the chilling mid-August night. Street lights were set far apart, meaning that our shadows would grow larger and larger on the blacktop.
Sooner or later, one of us would hop on a shadow and then another yelling, “Got your shadow!” Ten seconds later, there would be four Krugs shadow-stomping and exclaiming, “Can’t catch me” or “I want to catch someone’s shadow, Daddy!”
The moments we cherish are like wispy shadows— present one minute and gone the next.
Some people can be that way, too.
But not Lily.
Ellie Krug is the author of Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change. She welcomes your comments at [email protected]