Every Sunday at St. Martin’s Church in San Jose, a 4-year-old girl named Camille comes running to the row of seats near the back where my father sits and throws her arms around him. This stern 91-year-old man melts. “My girlfriend,” he calls her. Camille is a beautiful child with long wavy hair, dewy skin and big blue eyes. Dad often talks about her, telling me how smart and fearless she is, how she already knows how to read, how she’s starting school next year. Visiting from Oregon, I watch them, so jealous I could weep.
Camille has a 2-year-old brother and a 1-year-old sister (no Catholic jokes, please). They are all beautiful children and a handful for their parents. The mom and dad spend the Mass feeding them Cheerios, reading to them, shushing them, and taking them out when they get too squirmy. I don’t envy them that part of it.
During the sermon, the littlest girl stares up at my father, raises her tiny hand, and Dad matches his giant hairy brown hand against it. In this sweet moment, I realize how much my father actually likes little children and I could die for not having given him any, for not making him a grandfather.
My father keeps the family’s Christmas card, with pictures of all the kids, on the piano with pictures of me and my brother and my brother’s kids.
Before Mass, Dad introduced me to the young parents, and the mother told Camille, “This is his little girl all grown up.” Yes, I am my father’s little girl, still going to church alone with him when I visit California and staying with the choir back in Oregon because otherwise I’d be going to Mass alone.
At the sign of peace, my father hugs me and then I see Camille reaching up for me. She kisses me on the cheek, the softest sweetest butterfly kiss. How I wish I could hold on to it forever. If only that perfect family were mine.
Know what I mean?