The first time I heard this song, it was still a project. This is why I love house concerts and small venues. You can get a glimpse into the heart of an artist as their work takes shape. There seems to be few things more vulnerable than an artist who says, “This is something I’m working on, and I would like to share it with you.” Ben Grace shared this song with me in a small church concert. When he said it was called “Preacher’s Daughter,” my own little girl turned her head to look at me. As I listened to it that night I was touched by its simple beauty, but I wasn’t able to fully take it in because it was a fleeting moment of music in the midst of a night of art and storytellilng.
Now it has been released as a single – a finished product (as much as a song can ever be finished). I can listen to it again. And again. And as I listen to it for the third time with my earbuds in, my little girl turns and asks me why the tears are flowing down my cheek, and I can barely respond.
My daughters are 12 and 8. One of them could be the girl in the song. She could be the girl who likes a boy, who nervously writes him a note and hands it down the pew. She could be the girl who is embarrassed by her mother in front of her friends, whose tender words are torn to shreds. She could be the girl who steals a kiss, with her heart beating wildly. She could be the girl who faces the scorn of an angry father.
I could be that father. I don’t want to be.
I want them to be safe. I want them to grow up and get a solid education. I want them to chase their dreams. One wants to be a politician so she can help make positive change in the world, and I know the world would be a better place for her efforts. The other wants to be a chef or a teacher or a vet, depending on the day. They are both mighty girls of passion and strength and courage and kindness. I want to protect their vulnerable hearts, and the big, bad man in me wants to protect their bodies too. If I could just hold them in my arms, they will be forever safe. They will never be hurt, or insulted, or discarded.
There is a part of me that understands the angry preacher wanting to protect his daughter. I want to protect hem, guard them, and cherish every moment of their lives, but I know that is no kind of life.
One of them is sitting on the couch across from me as I listen to this song. I want her to love. I want her to have crushes and write notes and kiss boys (or girls if she so chooses). I want her to feel that wild, scary, earth-rocking feeling of touching his hand and wondering if his world shook too. I want her to call him on the phone and awkwardly hang up after two minutes of stunted conversation. I want her to explore her feelings, her emotions, and yes – her sexuality. I want her to treat herself with respect and demand it from others, and if I intervene with anger every time she ‘likes’ a boy, she will never learn to do that on her own.
Our culture of consumption and commercialization will do enough to oppress her. I do not want to add to that with my misguided attempts at protection. I love my two daughters more than I can possibly express, and I am so afraid for them. I am afraid of how the world will treat their kindness. I am afraid for others may try to pervert their beauty. I am afraid of so much, but I cannot project my fear onto their lives. They deserve to live.
They deserve to pass notes, share feelings, and steal kisses. I will love them fiercely until I die, but I never want to be the reason for their fear. I want my love to give them the courage to take chances and know that they can survive the heartbreaks and disappointments that will surely come. I want them to know my shoulder will always be a place to for them to rest their head. I also want them to find another shoulder if they so choose, or be a shoulder for someone else who needs their strength. I want them to know that love is not something to fear – it something to pursue and embrace.
So thank you, Ben. Thank you for telling this sweet, heartbreaking story. Thank you for reminding me to overcome my own fear so that they will be free to live fully. Thank you for these tears and for the chance to tell my daughters why they are there. I never want to miss what this preacher’s daughters said.