What My Daughter Taught Me About Love, by Robert Fulghum

My mom clipped this article and has saved it in an old file for years. It’s from an old Parade magazine, circa 1989. The other day she found it and had my dad read it — he liked it so much, he passed it on to me.

I liked it so much, I’m passing it along to you:

What My Daughter Taught Me About Love

By Robert Fulghum

The cardboard box is marked “The Good Stuff”. The box contains those odds and ends of personal treasures that have survived many bouts of clean-it-out and throw-it-away that seize me from time to time. A thief looking into the box would not take anything. But if the house ever catches on fire, the box goes with me when I run.

One of the keepsakes in the box is a small paper bag. Lunch size. Though the top is sealed with duct tape, staples and several paper clips, there is a ragged rip in one side through which the contents may be seen.

This particular lunch sack has been in my care for maybe 14 years. But it really belongs to my daughter, Molly.  Soon after she came of school age, she became an enthusiastic participant in packing lunches for herself, her brothers and me. Each bag got a share of sandwiches, apples, milk money and sometimes a note or a treat. One morning, Molly handed me two bags. One regular lunch sack and the other one with the duct tape and staples and paper clips.

“Why two bags?”

“The other one is something else.”

“What’s in it?”

“Just some stuff— take it with you.” I stuffed both sacks into my briefcase, kissed the child and rushed off.

At midday, while hurriedly scarfing down my real lunch, I tore open Molly’s bag and shook out the contents. Two hair ribbons, three small stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil stub, a tiny seashell, two animal crackers, a marble, a used lipstick, a small doll, two chocolate kisses and 13 pennies.

I smiled. How charming. Rising to hustle off, I swept the desk clean into the wastebasket— leftover lunch, Molly’s junk and all. There wasn’t anything in there I needed.

That evening Molly came to stand beside me while I was reading the paper.

“Where’s my bag?”

“What bag?”

“You know the one I gave you this morning.”

“I left it at the office, why?”

“I forgot to put this note in it.” She handed over the note, “Besides, I want it back.”

“Why?”

“Those are my things in the sack, Daddy, the ones I really like. I thought you might like to play with them, but now I want them back. You didn’t lose the bag, did you, Daddy?” Tears puddled in her eyes.

“Oh, no. I just forgot to bring it home,” I lied, “Bring it tomorrow. Okay?”

As she hugged my neck with relief, I unfolded the note that had not gotten into the sack, “I love you, Daddy.”

Oh. And uh-oh.

I looked long at the face of my child.

Molly had given me her treasures. All that a 7-year-old held dear. Love in a paper sack. And I had missed it. Not only missed it, but had thrown it away because “there wasn’t anything in there I needed.”

It wasn’t the first or the last time I felt my Daddy permit was about to run out.

It was a long trip back to the office. The pilgrimage of a penitent, I picked up the wastebasket and poured the contents on my desk. I was sorting it all out when the janitor came in to do his chores.

“Lose something?”

“Yes, my mind.”

“It’s probably in there, all right. What’s it look like, and I’ll help you find it.” I started not to tell him. But I couldn’t feel any more of a fool than I was already in fact, so I told him.

He didn’t laugh. “I got kids, too.” So the brotherhood of fools searched the trash and found the jewels, and he smiled at me and I smiled at him.

After washing the mustard off the dinosaur and spraying the whole thing with breath freshener to kill the smell of onions, I carefully smoothed out the wadded ball of brown paper into a semi-functional bag and put the treasures inside. I carried it home gingerly, like an injured kitten. The next evening, I returned it to Molly. No questions asked, no explanations offered.

After dinner I asked her to tell me about the stuff in the sack, and so she took it all out a piece at a time and placed the objects in a row on the dining room table. Everything had a story, a memory or was attached to dreams and imaginary friends. I managed to say, “I see” very wisely several times. And, as a matter of fact, I did see.

To my surprise, Molly gave the bag to me once again several days later. Same ratty bag. Same stuff inside. I felt forgiven. And trusted. And loved. And a little more comfortable wearing the title of Father. Over several months, the bag went with me from time to time. It was never clear to me why I did or did not get it on a given day.

In time Molly turned her attention to other things— found other treasures, lost interest in the game, grew up.

Me? I was left holding the bag. She gave it to me one morning and never asked for its return. And so I have it still.

The worn paper sack is there in the box. Left from a time when a child said, “Here— this is the best I’ve got— take it— it’s yours. Such as I have, give I to you.”

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