A couple of years ago I was talking with someone I worked with about my relationship with Ella. She hadn’t yet adopted the idea that I was on equal footing as a parent with her mom. She hardly liked me, except when I poured her a big glass of milk.

“Just wait,” said the woman, who was a grandmother to two girls. “When she’s 3 she’ll be totally in love with you. All little girls love their dads.”

Yesterday I finally found out what she meant.

Last Thursday night I flew to Chicago to attend a meeting I didn’t have to go to. I was supposed to come home Saturday afternoon, in time for an anniversary dinner with Trish.

That didn’t happen. I got to the airport and found out that my flight had been cancelled. The first winter storm of the year was an hour away, and apparently United Airlines thought it best to start shutting down the operations early.

I booked another flight. I boarded the plane and sat there, for almost three hours, until the pilot told us the airlines was pulling the plug. There was one last flight, but the plane hadn’t left Pittsburgh yet and was already an hour late. That one cancelled, too.

So I spent another night in Chicago (luckily the hotel bar was a great place to watch football — whoever started outlawing smoking in bars is my hero!). Trish, who had already driven an hour to the airport because the online flight status told her we were in the air, turned around and went home.

The anniversary celebration would have to be postponed. Trish understood, and she was supportive. But I’d told Ella that I would be home Saturday night. I shouldn’t have done that. Shouldn’t have provided an absolute when there were factors I couldn’t control. I try to be very consistent without making promises I can’t keep.

Yesterday morning I caught the 6:21 a.m. flight from O’Hare into Raleigh. Trish and Ella picked me up from the airport.

I climbed into the back seat, with Ella. At first she didn’t say anything. She just looked at me and smiled weakly. She looked … fragile? Hurt? Sad? Happy? Angry? On the brink of tears.
Finally, after a minute or two, she leaned over as far as her carseat allowed, grabbed my arm and pulled me to her. And she didn’t let go. She didn’t say anything for several minutes more, she just held my hand. She followed me around the rest of the day.

When they dropped me off at the airport Thursday night Ella cried when I left and said she wanted to go with her dad. It tore at my heartstrings, but I thought she was tired because it was late, or she wanted to see the airplane. I didn’t fully believe that she wanted to go with me. Why? I don’t know. I’m the grumpier parent. When given the option, Ella almost always chooses to spend time with Trish.

Yesterday, there was no doubt. Ella does like me.

My old friend was right. But she didn’t tell me how dads fall head-over-heels for their little girls. To know that a little person, who’s walking around in genes half mine, looks up to me, depends on me and even loves me … there’s nothing better.

Even if she’s quick to say I don’t know what I’m talking about.

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