Today, July 26, is my daughter’s birthday. She turns 30 years old.
Thirty is the milestone birthday that, for many people, concludes the various stages of growing up.
An earlier milestone is the 18th birthday, which was important for me because it meant I could vote for the first time. Others I knew were just happy they could now buy Marlboros.
Another is the 21st birthday, and the associated adult feeling of being able to buy alcohol and drink in bars and clubs without resorting to ID forgery.
Turning 30 years old marks the end of a person’s twenties — that decade when many young people strike out on their own and begin to establish independent lives from their parents.
My daughter never had a problem growing up. She didn’t have much choice in many respects.
Perhaps it began the day she was born. I mean, when you’re christened with a seriously long name like she was, how can you not be a little more mature than the other kids on the playground?
I’m pretty sure my daughter is a candidate for having the “name most likely to cause a hand cramp when filling out forms.”
Rhiannon Aislynnde Caprice Mariani.
If that’s not enough of a mouthful, she added a fifth name after getting married, so now it’s Rhiannon Aislynnde Caprice Mariani Perser.
Imagine getting all that on a military ID requisition form? It’s something she’s had to shoehorn more than once as a military spouse and wife of a U.S. Navy sailor.
Her supercalifragilisticexpialidocious of a name does not include mine because Rhian (pronounced Ree-in for those keeping score) was 2 years old when I met her mom. I wound up spending about 10 years helping raise her, which earned me the title of “dad.”
Rhian had to endure the divorce of her mother and me, an event that marked another development in her early journey towards adulthood.
The upside of the divorce was she eventually wound up with a second dad, Elliott, a very stand-up guy who in some ways was more of a big brother to Rhian, an only child.
Elliott taught her how to snowboard and multiple other ways to have fun, while my specialties were bedtime stories and homework.
Having Elliott in Rhian’s life turned out to be a blessing for another reason.
She was living with Elliott and her mom while she was in high school. Early in her junior year, her mother developed a horrible illness that killed her. Rhian spent weeks in the hospital watching her mom slowly die.
If that doesn’t make you grow up fast, I don’t know what does.
Unfortunately, the Grim Reaper has visited those close to Rhian more than once in her young life.
Only a few years after losing her mom, Rhian, then 20 years old, lost her grandmother — the second most important maternal figure in her world — after spending weeks in the hospital by her bedside.
She wasn’t yet old enough to legally drink, but Rhian had plenty of reason to by that point in her life.
She could have easily cratered as a result of these losses. Some people might well have disappeared into a bottle of vodka, or worse, in response to familial tragedies.
My daughter found a way to stay upright, and continue to grow emotionally and intellectually, and blossom into an amazing young woman.
Earlier this year Rhian informed me that I would officially become old —as in grandpa old — as of late September. That’s when she’s expecting to give birth to her first child, Atticus.
The pregnancy has had its usual challenges. But the first two trimesters of insomnia, hormonal swings, back pain, and more paled to what happened last month.
Elliott, only 48 years old, had a heart attack in his sleep, and died.
Three huge deaths in her life, all before the age of 30. I suppose numerologists have something to say about this to explain why. I just know it was astoundingly horrible for her.
Again, my daughter responded with strength and character, as well as her sense of humor still intact.
She told me recently that she was going to buy me “a large plastic bubble to live in” and hire “a 24/7 on-call medical team” to ensure I’m still around for years to come.
As her 30th birthday approached, I wasn’t sure what to get my daughter. When you consider everything I’ve chronicled here, no greeting card or retail purchase seemed appropriate, or enough to mark the occasion.
So I decided to dedicate this column to her, and explain a little about her life.
Even if Rhiannon Aislynnde Caprice Mariani Perser wasn’t my daughter, she’d be reason enough to write about.
Her journey so far has been an example of the outsized misfortune that can befall someone, and how they can rise to the occasion and make a father proud.