Karl, maroon shirt, tucked into his wide length whitewashed dad jeans. Silver wedding ring, tight brown belt, a small pudge sneaking over his pants, with just enough room to breathe. Above his mask lay deep blue eyes; blonde, soon to be gray hair covers the top of his sun-kissed face. A clip to hold his cellphone, wallet and perhaps a pocket knife…should the occasion call for it.
As he rocks back and forth at the welcome table of the Santa Barbara wine bar, he gently taps the top of the display bottle. With a smirk, ever so slightly. His curiosity takes over as he smiles beneath his mask. Is this a Syrah, a blend? His wife leans into him, brushes against his cheek with her masked face. A smirk in her glance too. She laughs comfortably, knowing what her husband is up to. 30+ years to her advantage. A tender knowingness of his innocent, yet mischievous curiosity.
He was always a man of thoughtfulness. A world to be explored. Curious about both the simplest and most complex details of life. Whether it be a $20 wine bottle in Santa Barbara, or the deep black holes past Jupiter. Today, the gentleman in maroon, with a scruffy beard peeking out of his mask, was eager for a sip of the small-town winemaker’s creation.
Who designed this multi-colored labeled bottle? What a serene atmosphere. He soaks in the 85-degree November weather. His eyes wander across the tables, covered in teal and coral colored wine labels.
With a sigh, his mind wanders to his youngest. His daughter. He thinks of her in college, the place that is not nearly the same place he remembers. There will be no keggers this year. No accidental late-night conversations in the hallway. No exchanging of words with a boy she bumps into looking for a bathroom. 2020. What an odd time for his baby to be released into the world. He thinks of her often, and hopes that she can still experience the wildness and hopefulness of youth. Perhaps in a way she has. Just differently.
In the same touch of the wine bottle, his mind wanders deeper into the character of his youngest. A beautiful, chaotic, woman. Opposite of his firstborn. She was unpredictable, passionate. The kind of spontaneity that drove 400 miles to catch a solar eclipse 3 states over. Camping out in her car next to strangers, anticipating the cosmic magic. For that brief moment when the moon blocked the sun, bringing silence, darkness and stillness…her childlike awe ignites. The simple pleasure of knowing that she was joining so many others in that same moment to witness a fantastic phenomenon. Feeling the otherworldly connection, a textbook empath. What would 2020 hold for her?
Her first year at university could attract more trauma than beauty. But he believed in her, like he believed the sun would rise. Her grit surpassed anything he had ever seen. A history of abuse, emotionally torn apart…she persisted. No pandemic or chaotic year could stop her spirit. She was far past disruption. In her wild eyes, she was more than ready for whatever came her way. Even if she equally doubted and believed in herself. Her power terrified him, because it was unlike anything Karl had ever seen or known.
He thinks of his daughters often. Constantly throughout his day. He tries not to. They are adults, but they are his baby girls. Music keeps his mind in balance. A Beach Boys song plays at the wine bar, transporting him to another space and time. But the melodies tend to pull him back to his role as their father. The bottle of Syrah reminds him of this reality. He holds both in tension. The love and concern for his girls, and the beauty of a good song and a good bottle of wine with his wife.
The guitar riffs drift him into a world away from the chaos, detached from the responsibility and weight of fatherhood. Yet the same riffs pull him back. Tom Petty’s song “Wildflowers,” will always hold meaning for Karl. The day Tom Petty died remains one of the hardest in his life.
He thinks of his firstborn when he hears the words: “You belong among the wildflowers…You belong somewhere you feel free.” The song he chose for their father-daughter dance at her wedding. While he rested his head on hers and held her hand, tears in both of their eyes, he was torn. He knew his girl’s betrothed would never appreciate her complexities, nor provide her the creativity and freedom she needed.
Long nights spent discussing theology, politics, love and war in the backyard over wine …he knew. The words of Petty only scratched the surface of her desire for freedom and his ability as a father. He wanted her to know true freedom and in the touch of that wine bottle, he again felt the limitations of his role.
She had a wild spirit, a different yet similar wild to his youngest. She craved vulnerability and authenticity. She sought that in her romantic partners, not yet knowing it existed within herself the whole time. He knew that long before his first father-daughter dance. Couldn’t convince her of that truth, even as he watched her start a new life that would lead to heartache.
She lived on a different plane. She pursued love in a way that most men her age couldn’t understand. Weren’t prepared for. When you watch your firstborn marry and divorce in a three-year period, you ache. The bond between a father and a daughter is beyond grief and loss. It’s hope. For fresh air and wildflowers.
Karl flashes back, lost in the melodies of his classic rock ballads. He pictures a world where both of his daughters are free from toxic relationships. He pictures Petty’s words and in the depths of his heart, he rests in the truth that they are free thinkers.
By God’s grace, he raised women who crave knowledge. Knowledge through experience, through trial and error. Yet he curses himself for teaching them this beautiful truth. “You must fall, make mistakes and then only can you grow.” He dreams his girls will grow like wildflowers, free to experience the beauties and depths of life in every season. But a qualifier for becoming a wildflower is endurance. These sorts of flowers are tough. Their wild beauty only remains fully blossomed from their resilience through harsh weather.
He thinks about his eldest once again, the way she observed the world as a child. Watched her furiously scribble her thoughts in multiple schoolgirl notebooks, trying to understand the battle that rages and tempts humans to choose good or evil. He knew she had thoughts beyond her age. But he dared not tell her he noticed, for fear she would become embarrassed of her questions and stop asking.
He watched her awkwardly try to engage in conversations with adults, witnessed her curiosity around his peers. A curiosity he shared, but was surprised by. Conversations she took home to her notebooks. Her hopes of catching a glimmer of “truth,” in those moments. Conversations to mull over underneath her sheets, beneath the faint glow of her flashlight.
In her mind, she prayed that she would not be found out by her parents. The same parents who already knew; and likewise prayed, that the little girl with the deep thoughts would never find out the truth. The truth that her parents not only suspected, but encouraged her late-night flashlight musings.