Your kid is hurt. Not badly or suddenly but hurt. It's her leg. She started running cross-country on a whim and probably ramped up too fast. Whatever the case, her left leg isn't right, the calf is tight even when she's just walking around school. She's in constant low-grade and occasional high-grade pain. Or, as she would say high-key pain. These things happen.
Your wife makes an appointment with an orthopedist. Your job is more flexible than hers, so you get to drive your girl to the appointment.
On the way, you say to her you're glad she's not a little kid, that it's good she's in high school. She shrugs. You explain: When you were tiny it was worse. You couldn't help yourself. You couldn't tell us what was wrong. This, you tell her, is still bad, but better. You know you're not explaining it right.
Okay, she says. She's nice that way. Knows when to throw the old man a bone.
You're her dad, so most of what you do is drive where she needs to go, try to be quiet and let her talk with the doctors, listen more than you talk, and head her off when she begins to spiral into anger or depression. You know about such spirals. Bet your ass you do. Trying to head her off helps head you off. Sometimes.
The orthopedist looks her over. Kick this leg up. Now that one. Stand up and walk across the exam room. Lie down and put your leg up. How's this feel? This? He figures out where things are at. He suggests an MRI.
She is nervous about that. He says, no sweat, but she says, isn't that the thing that makes you feel like the world is coming down. You smile. You know what she means. Claustrophobic, you say. The orthopedist says she won't go all the way in. Just her leg. He asks, is your leg claustrophobic? She smiles but only a little, like it's a dad joke. He smiles back. No sweat, he tells her.
And there's a job opening.
The job description: nod and make sure she believes him. Say, it's no problem. When she says it still high-key makes her nervous, nod again and say that you understand. Don't try to fix things. Just be there. Be a man. Be her dad.
You step up. You do the job. When she raises her eyebrows at you, that's when you know you've done what you were hired to do, what you were born to do, all you've ever wanted to do. And you both smile.