The great philosopher Mick Jagger sang it best:  “What a drag it is getting old.”

One of the worst parts of the affliction the Stones’ song recalls is that not only are you putting on years, but the people you begat are getting that way as well.  Or at least they are getting old enough that they don’t need the nest anymore.

My eldest, the incredibly lovely Rachel, in the space of only three months, has graduated cum laude from the flagship state university — on time with a difficult double major — gotten engaged and now has a big job that is taking her up east. She moves fast.  And from my perspective, her whole life has passed before my eyes at almost the same rate of speed.

I know that most fathers who lived long enough have had to deal with having their baby move away.  Virtually every one of them that I know has handled this tragic inevitability with grace and humor — at least publicly.  But at this point in my life, I confess I’m not that strong.  It’s killing me.

She seems to be almost as reluctant to move on as I am to let her go, but I suspect that’s just a matter of humoring the old man.  She says she’ll be coming home all the time, but I believe she’ll learn pretty quickly that even the big job won’t finance endless airfare.  And the drive from way up there is brutal enough the first time with a U-Haul. To do it often for a quick visit home would be mighty gruesome.

Maybe all the heartache is due to the fact that she is only the finest daughter a man could ever have. I told her the other night that I honestly cannot recall her ever getting in trouble.  Nor can I remember ever punishing her for anything.  Her mother followed up by reminding her it was a common practice to order her to close her books and go out and see her friends.  After all, it was Friday night and she was supposed to be a teenager then. You get the idea.

To me, she’ll always be the most beautiful baby I ever saw, who always seemed to wake up with a smile on her face. She’ll always be the blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girl who never went to bed without asking Mom or Dad to read her one of her many favorite books, at least until she was reading them herself at about age 5.  She’ll always be the scrappiest second basewoman you ever saw play softball, a dead pull hitter, waving the longest and heaviest bat on the team. She always hit for a high average and had plenty of big hits in the clutch.

If I had my way, I’d be like Bil Keane in “The Family Circus” and have a perpetually youthful family.  His kids never grew up or moved away.  Why do mine have to?

The only consolation is that I’m not sending her way up there alone.  She has Jay beside her and I trust him to love her and protect her like I always have.

So Godspeed, my darling.  Remember your roots and always go to the plate with confidence and a smile on your face.  You will smack it down the left field line for extra bases, and way back down South, your old man will stand and cheer.

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Joey Ledford

Joey Ledford

Joey Ledford is a veteran journalist, who for more than 20 years was a writer and editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He also served as a writer and editor for United Press International for eight years.