By In Stuff

The Year of Hamilton

Elizabeth is in high school now, which means that I have failed as a father. If I had succeeded, she would have stayed 10 years old like I kept telling her, and she wouldn’t be taking physics classes beyond my comprehension, wouldn’t be driving my car on her permit license and sure as heck would never talk about boys. To be fair, she doesn’t talk about boys with me in the room even now because that would be the death of me. But I hear things.

Elizabeth is in high school now, which means when we do talk, we don’t talk about stuff like what’s the best fruit to dip in chocolate or the best Disney Princess or the importance of Dobby in the Harry Potter series. No, she wants to talk now about why women don’t get paid as much as men for doing the same work or why her writing is so personal she would never let anyone see it or why she’s going far away for college. Grown-up stuff. It’s beautiful, of course. It’s heartbreaking too. It was so much simpler to discuss the feats of explorers like Magellan and Christopher Columbus and Dora.

Elizabeth is in high school now, which means our relationship grows and shrinks all at once. It grows because I see more and more of myself in her, and so there are those magical times when I know precisely what to say to her, exactly how to get her through a teenage crisis, exactly what songs she should listen to when she wants to feel like the world gangs up on her. And it shrinks for the same reason because I see more and more of myself in her, and I want to fix all those things that I could never quite fix in myself. Her tolerance for this is slightly below zero.

Elizabeth is in high school now, which means she loves things I don’t understand, YouTube stars that are entirely foreign to me, humor that leaves me cold, video games that move too fast for me to follow.

She talks a lot about leaving home for college.

College? Please. That’s years down the road … years down the road … years down the road … years down the road …

… it is not so many years down the road.

Every now and again, then, I pull out my phone and look for the photograph.

* * *

I took one photograph of Elizabeth on the night we saw Hamilton. One. I kept it to one on purpose; I didn’t want to take any. Yes, of course, I’m like everyone else, I take way too many photographs of family stuff. I do this at the bidding of my wife, Margo, who believes it is important to chronicle every single event and non-event of our lives. We will be walking through a mall, for instance, and Margo will say, “OK, wait, we need a photograph in front of the Sbarro.”

Why do we need a photo in front of the …

“We just do, everybody stop complaining and stand in front of the pizza oven.”

As the official family photographer, I have all of these photographs on my phone. You know the story. I have enough photos of my girls at Disney World that I’m pretty sure I could turn them into a flip book and relive the entire vacation.

But I find, more and more, that as I scan through them the overwhelming feeling is not, “Oh, I remember that,” or “Oh, wow, look at how much the girls have changed.” It is: “Are you kidding me? When did I actually vacation? I’m not living life, I’m just recording it.”

So my rule: No photographs on Hamilton night.

My thought was that we would experience the night, not log it for posterity. My thought was that I didn’t want anything at all taking us out of the moment, taking us out of this reverie. I’ve written a little bit about this before, but for a year Elizabeth had not been right. She would not eat. She started to lose weight dramatically. She was sad all the time … and she had never really been sad before. It seemed like teenage angst at first, and frankly even after we began to suspect that it went deeper than that we kept going back to the teenage angst theory. We didn’t want to believe anything else. We went to see doctors, dieticians, and counselors.

Early this year, we discovered that Elizabeth has Crohn’s Disease. It is a hard disease to sum up because it affects people in many different and startling ways. At its core, it is an immune system disease – a Crohn’s patient’s immune system attacks the harmless bacteria that aid digestion in the gastrointestinal tract. As Elizabeth once said it, “My immune system is stupid.” The attack leaves behind all sorts of Game of War wreckage in the colon, and this creates many problems, some of them obvious (stomach pains, exhaustion) and some less so (depression, obstruction of hunger).

Her road back was trying … but inspiring. She endured all the medical procedures, all the medication, and this is the daughter who is so scared of needles and doctors that she has had full-fledged breakdowns in doctor’s offices.*

*I am remembering now when Elizabeth was 4 years old and had her tonsils out. She was a mess of nerves after that. She was so hysterical with pain and confusion, that the only way I could calm her down (she would not go anywhere NEAR her mother) was to go over the names of the 12 princesses in “Barbie and the 12 Dancing Princesses.” The names are alphabetical, so I would have her on my lap, and I would have her take a little medicine, and we would go through them, like a mantra:

OK, A is for Ashlyn. Who is B?

She would whisper: “B is for Blair.”

Right. B is Blair. C is Coconut?

“No,” she would say. “C is Courtney.”

Right, right, C is Courtney and D is Delicious.

“Delia!”

Right, Delia and E …

Oh, I can still do them all – Ashlyn, Blair, Courtney, Delia, Edeline, Fallon, Genevieve (Barbie’s character), Hadley, Isla, Janessa (our favorite to say), Kathleen and Lacey.

Elizabeth gained weight back. She gained energy. And she began to show her old joy again, be her old self again, the silly puns (especially bee puns), the strong opinions she will not hold back (Godfather is better than Godfather Part II, but Robert De Niro is a better Godfather than Marlon Brando), the hunger for reading.

What she wanted more than anything was to see Hamilton on Broadway. That dream filled every moment, good times and bad.

That’s why I bought those tickets (for so much money that I still have never told Margo the amount), and that’s why we went up to New York, and that’s why I did not want to take any photographs on that night. I wanted it to be something more than real life. I wanted it to be like a dream.

* * *

The night before we went to the show, I saw Elizabeth on the hotel couch staring out the window. She was crying. Crohn’s had attacked her for trying to have a milkshake. She was sobbing. I sat down next to her, and held her close, and told her, “We are going to see Hamilton tomorrow! It will be OK!”

And she said, “Dad, I can’t feel happy. I don’t know why. I’m just … every time I try to feel happy it like disappears. I can’t be happy.” And she cried harder and I held her tighter.

This disease … it is a bastard.

The next morning, she felt a bit better. We walked around New York, and she felt better still.

And then it was time to go, and Elizabeth put on a dress she had gotten just for this occasion, and she spent a long time on her hair, and she put on high heels that made her almost as tall as her mother. And we walked out into the New York night. It was raining. The crowd had already formed; some had been waiting for hours. We stood under the marquee of the Marriott Marquis, right next to the Richard Rodgers theater. It was the happiest line of people I’d ever seen.

“What a lucky girl you are,” the woman in front of us said to Elizabeth.

“I know,” Elizabeth said. She could not stop smiling. She was wobbling on her shoes and jabbering about how she was going to sing along with every song and just smiling.

“I’m going to sing along too,” I said.

“Don’t you dare,” she said.

She was shaking as we entered the theater, trembling. We found our seats up in the balcony, and you could see Elizabeth trying to take all of it in, soak all of it in, the way a plant soaks in sunlight. The beautiful thing about it was that we were soon surrounded by people floating in the same dream, all of us were in a place beyond happiness, a place of ecstasy, because this was it, Hamilton, the biggest show in America, the biggest stage on earth, and this enormous thing, something bigger than a play, was about to begin.

“Dad,” Elizabeth finally said. “One picture.”

“Elizabeth …”

“Dad, please. One picture.”

And that’s when I snapped the photograph.

* * *

We talk about that night a lot, Elizabeth and I, We mostly talk about little things – the way Leslie Odom involuntarily giggled for a millisecond when the King of England danced, the glorious way Daveed Diggs/Thomas Jefferson swept onto the stage in all purple, the way Renee Elise Goldsberry’s gorgeous voice cut through the darkness.

I remember that dream like candlelight

Like a dream that you can’t quite place

And, of course, we talk all the time about Lin Manuel-Miranda, my friend Lin, the genius, the role model, the hero and one of my Twitter followers.

“Dad, give me your phone,” Elizabeth will say.

“Why?”

“I want to see if Lin is still following you on Twitter.”

We talk a lot about that night. But we also don’t talk about it. There are parts of that night that we will never talk about, parts of that night that only the two of us will ever share. Elizabeth is in high school now, and she’s breaking away. She wants to break away … and she doesn’t. I want her to break away … and I don’t. It’s complicated, all this father-daughter stuff. We make our way.

That Hamilton night, well, that might be the last night that it wasn’t complicated.

* * *

It’s not a very good photograph. Her hair is in covering her eyes and there’s nothing really behind her except an empty stage. I said I take a lot of photographs. I didn’t say I was any good at it.

Still, it is my favorite photograph of 2016. And I think my favorite part of it is that it’s just a little bit out of focus.

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77 Responses to The Year of Hamilton

  1. jdn says:

    Such a beautiful piece and picture! Thank you for all your writing, this year and always.

  2. Bob Shelton says:

    I’ve never had children (and at this point, never will), but somehow you make me understand what it would feel like if I did. Brilliant, as always.

  3. Dale says:

    Fantastic! May you and Elizabeth and the rest of your family have a very Merry Christmas!

  4. Edwin says:

    Happy Christmas for you and your family, Mr. Posnanski.

  5. Dave says:

    It’s suddenly a little dusty in here. Thanks, Joe, as always.

  6. Daniel Prenat says:

    Thanks for sharing, pieces like this are why you’re my favorite writer.

  7. John says:

    Thank you Joe. I had a similar experience with my 16-year old daughter in April, and in practically the same seats. 3rd row of the balcony, left side. Elizabeth has grown up with my daughter, gone through similar phases (Love Katie the Prefect), and I wanted to thank you for putting in to words many of the thoughts I have had through these years. Merry Christmas and good luck in your future endeavor. Please keep writing these types of essays.

  8. invitro says:

    “why women don’t get paid as much as men for doing the same work” — They do. There are statistics that prove it. It will be a Merrier Christmas when these lies are not told so often.

  9. Hextall says:

    What is this salty discharge?

  10. John G says:

    Joe, you’re a dear and incredible man and I thank you for this posting. Hamilton has given me and my family an incredible year in a different, yet similar way,(after a brutal 2015 for my family) and reading this story makes me smile. Thank you again.

  11. Rich says:

    Love reading Joe’s stories. Just took my daughter (10) to her first professional play at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. We drove from Huntsville and spent the night in Montgomery – a special Christmas treat for her. She loved the play. In for run are, I didn’t get a photo. Well I took one of her just sitting in her seat – you literally couldn’t see another person or anything of the theater. Hiwever, they have a strict no photo rule, and the staff is so anal that the were going to kick us out unless they deleted the photo. What a bunch if idiots. Some nonsense about the theater itself being copyrighted. I’m glad Joe was able to get their photo and have such good memories attached to it. Its good to know that there us some reasonabless still around.

  12. Brian says:

    Joe,

    In a very short time, your daughter will pass that drivers test. And then, that day, maybe the day after: ‘Dad, can I borrow the car?’
    ‘You want go somewhere, without me? Without your mom? Hold on, I’m thinking…’

    And you will say yes. Of course. Because you have to.

    And you will be absolutely beside yourself

  13. Jim D. says:

    Once again, you capture the joy, frustration, wonder, befuddlement, occasional despair and ultimate hopefulness of fatherhood so well in your writing. Thank you for sharing these moments with us, and I hope that you and your family have a Merry Christmas and a safe and joyful holiday season.

  14. Bruce W. says:

    All the things that we feel as parents, all the pride and joy and fear and love, you have captured beautifully in this piece. Thank you.

  15. Rob Smith says:

    Yes, enjoy it. …in a few years… they will go to college. Then they will spend most of their time away, if you’ve done your job. The alternative, if you’ve done a terrible job, is they will come back and live in your basement & not want to leave. That’s the dichotomy. If you do well, they leave & you miss them. If you don’t to a good job they stay and you wish they’d leave. The former takes some getting used to. The latter you will never get used to.

    Parenting’s fun stuff. I think you have a few more articles about this stuff coming.

  16. Mike says:

    Dang It Joe, don’t make me cry at Christmas. Beautiful as always.

  17. Mike says:

    As a daddy whose oldest (age 5) is also named Elizabeth and also “more me than me,” these stories always leave me a blubbering mess. Well done, sir, as always.

  18. Jason says:

    Joe – longtime reader. This was absolutely beautiful writing. Thank you for sharing your talent and your personal experiences. I read with great interest your piece about Hamilton earlier this year, and it was from that story that I became more interested in the play. We were fortunate to snag tickets to the upcoming run in San Francisco, but seeing the original cast, on Broadway, with your daughter…that is an experience few could put into words, let alone as eloquently as you did (and did again here). Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your sweet family.

  19. Mark says:

    My kids are in college now. I have had many of those “I see myself” moments, and I have the same chance of fixing those things. the one solace I have is I think I am a good person… And likewise my wife. So if they are like us there is a chance they will end up at least as good as us (and quiite easily better… The bar isn’t that high). If your kids grow up as good as your writing about them is, you have nothing to worry about.
    Your story of that day also reminded me of a personal experience. I’ve been a Royals fan all my life, but have been to a game at Royals stadium (back than) only once back when I was about 12. I had stomach cramps that day so bad I didn’t even want a hot dog… Until about the 7th inning. Looking back now, it know it was excitement but I had never been that excited over something like that ever before so I had no idea what it was.

  20. Knuckles says:

    Awwww yay! Everyone pretend this is the most amazing touching thing they have ever read!! Jesus just cause he does a couple columns a year not on sports doesn’t mean people have to pretend it’s the greatest literary masterpiece ever written.

    • MarkWIDX says:

      Or perhaps their opinions are simply different from yours. That may be difficult for you to believe. Thank you for expressing your dissent so graciously, though.

    • Hamster Huey says:

      So, Knuckles, how old are your kids?

    • Kitastrophe says:

      Why do you care about how his work affects others? Are you so egotistical that those who don’t agree with you must be ‘corrected’? Shoo. Go away.

      • Knuckles says:

        Because it’s fake. People did not really cry. Give me a break. Joe voting for Barry Bonds?? Now there is something to cry about

        • Ryan says:

          You probably get this a lot, but you’re a cunt.

        • Kitastrophe says:

          I see. You’re an unhappy troll trying to make others be unhappy with you. Pissing on things other people enjoy is a sad way to look for attention, but I reckon you’ll take what you can get. You have no way of knowing how other people reacted but figured it was best to lash out with your empty cynicism. That is a pathetic way to live your life but if it fills the void within you for even a moment, I guess it’s how you survive. I would pity you but you’re likely not worth it.

    • Richie says:

      I am not a particularly emotional person. But, this article did affect me. I didn’t actually cry, but I got close – and I definitely felt something. (And I don’t even have kids.)

    • Lee says:

      What a sad miserable person you are. I say this with no malice at all, I just genuinely and with real empathy feel sorry for you, I really do, to be so sad and angry at your life that you feel compelled to write that comment on this article, THIS ARTICLE, wow, ur life must be in a bad place and I really truly hope you find some happiness soon. All the best for 2017

    • Schiesskopf says:

      We dont have to pretend that Knuckles is a joyless asshat, though.

  21. Joe, I’m sure, like me, you spent some time as a kid listening to Lindsey Nelson. His wife died when his youngest daughter starting college; his older daughter suffered from Down’s Syndrome. In his autobiography, he wrote about his youngest daughter Nancy’s wedding, and how he left after the reception to fly to do a ballgame. As for my response to your post, I’ll let him take it from here:

    … Nancy had slipped a piece of cloth into that pocket. Now, I pulled it out and spread it on the tray in front of me. She had been sewing it for several days, whenever she had a moment. It outlined a man between two little girls, each of whom he held by the hand. And the legend said ANY MAN CAN BE A FATHER, BUT IT TAKES SOMEONE SPECIAL TO BE A DADDY …. From somewhere, there were soft tears glistening on my cheeks.

  22. shagster says:

    A photo. Of your child. On the blog. The wall
    is pierced.

    Hi Elizabeth! If you’re not reading any of this stuff, you will. So here’s a little note of thanks. You’ve inspired your dad to incredible heights as a writer. And he has shared his artwork with us. Now you don’t know us (or many of us), but you should know we think your dad is one of the finest writers of our generation. Using words like generation means not finest for just one season, but several. In fact, a career. On a planet full of several billion people, we think he’s in the top 100. Maybe 10. And yet in the long list of ideas and events he’s catalogued, you seem to coach him up to levels he can’t touch on his own. Trust us. We know. We read his stuff. So a word of grateful thanks to you. From all of us. Now go out in the world and have fun. Be you. Because that’s special too. Sincerely yours, “Joe’s Blog”

    • Drew O'Donnell says:

      First time poster. I have a four year old daughter named Elizabeth. And though I’ve never met you Elizabeth and my 7 year old son know you by name. Own every book you have written and though strictly a sports reader can’t wait to read about houdini because you are writing. Great post and best of luck in 2017. Look forward to your work with mlb

  23. Nickolai says:

    Great piece, thank you as always joe!

  24. Herb Simon says:

    Joe, from a pharmacist who has seen the disease from family(father) to many customers, I know what is going on in your life. Those of us from eastern European back will always have this in our genes. Forgot to mention my almost 50 year old son has many of the signs also. Stay strong and keep writing. Miss you in K.C. Shalom

  25. Paul says:

    Joe, nothing wrong with that picture. It’s perfect, especially for the moment. I’m sure it is only blurry because there is something in my eyes.

  26. Margaret Howland says:

    Thank you for sharing, Joe. This is a beautiful piece.
    And by the way, some of us did cry in the reading, maybe remembering when our daughters were 16 and learning to drive, learning about life.

  27. Dan says:

    My daughter is 16 and is becoming a woman and is becoming her own person and has her own friends and dreams and inspirations and things and all I want to do is to have her be 10 again. But they do have to grow up, don’t they. Damnable dust.

  28. E.H. says:

    Joe, you took a great picture!

  29. MikeN says:

    > (for so much money that I still have never told Margo the amount)

    I was thinking that well before I read it.

  30. Crazy Diamond says:

    Nice story. Too bad Hamilton was involved. But a nice story. If you want to watch quality entertainment that isn’t horrible left-wing trash, try Moana! *BONUS* you won’t get preached to by a bunch of self-righteous cast members =)

    • Kitastrophe says:

      Politely requesting that a homophobe treat people with respect is not quite preaching. Such tender snowflakes! And I’m going to assume if you call Hamilton ‘horrible left-wing trash’ you haven’t actually seen it.

      • invitro says:

        Who you callin’ a homophobe, bro?

      • Crazy Diamond says:

        Kitastrophe: nobody was “polite” to the VP-elect, are you kidding? They intentionally and publicly tried to embarrass him. And yes, it was absolutely 100% preaching.

        Being annoyed by a self-righteous, hypocritical actor – and those who supported him – is not being a snowflake. The cast was butt-hurt that their candidate (Hillary) lost the election and, being the snowflakes that they are, couldn’t handle the fact that Trump/Pence won.

        It’s kind of like people who can’t stand Kaepernick. The guy is an entitled, hypocritical clown and people can’t stand him for it. Same with the cast of Hamilton.

        Again, nice article, Joe! But there are many better sources of entertainment.

  31. Karyn says:

    It’s a perfect photograph, Joe.

  32. Daniel Schmidt says:

    I’m sorry that your daughter has an illness that hurts her, Joe and I thank her bravery and your eloquence in sharing a small piece of your stories. Merry Christmas. Go Browns.

  33. invitro says:

    My top 10 George Michael songs:
    1. Everything She Wants
    2. Faith
    3. Father Figure
    4. Freedom
    5. Wrap Her Up (with Elton John)
    6. Careless Whisper
    7. A Different Corner
    8. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
    9. I Want Your Sex
    10. Last Christmas

  34. Chris H says:

    Joe, I’ve been thinking a lot about meaningful work – what constitutes meaningful, how it is I have landed in my current stupid job, whether “meaningful work” is even a real thing to be worried about or just a luxury of the leisure class in modern times. I don’t know whether your father, for example, thought about whether or not his factory job was “meaningful work.” Maybe he did – maybe its meaning was in producing useful things that people needed, or that doing a job well was meaningful for its own sake, or, likely, that being able to provide for a family was all the meaning he needed. Anyway, I have the luxury of thinking about this, thinking about whether there’s a way to make my current gig meaningful, or what else I might do, or just the luxury of having regrets about the path I took.
    .
    But that’s my paying job. My real work for the past dozen years has been producing theater. It has certainly not been lucrative (and holds no current prospects for becoming remotely Hamilton-like), nor do we reach large numbers of people. But we do our best to be thoughtful and thought-provoking and rewarding, for our audiences and our artists alike. It’s difficult to know whether we’re succeeding at that. We spend so much time and effort making a piece of theater that I find myself inside it, and can only hope that people are being honest when they say the experience meant something to them. I try to intuit it, and grab on to those one or two comments that indicate we succeeded at what we were trying to do.
    .
    And in the theater, you finish a show – unless you’re Hamilton-like – and put everything away, and it can be like it never happened. So it doesn’t even have anything like permanence.
    .
    All of which is just to say, as someone doing this work on a very different level from Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’s very affirming to know how much a work of theater has meant to you and your daughter and the two of you together. I’m sure your ability to put into words what Hamilton has meant to the two of you has meant very much the same to Mr. Miranda. Thank you.
    .
    And rest assured, my friend (if I can call you that – it is a measure of your craftsmanship that you make me feel that way), your work is very meaningful indeed, as the comments here and on your other pages attest.
    .
    All my best to you, Elizabeth, and the rest of your family in 2017 and as you start your next chapter.

  35. Patrick L Dunn says:

    Aww Joe, you brought an honest to goodness tear to my eye. They make it all worthwhile. Thanks.

  36. Kathleen Jun says:

    Does the person who called Hamilton left-wing and called Moana much better not realize that Miranda wrote music for both?

    • Crazy Diamond says:

      Oh I’m sorry. I guess I missed the part in Moana where the cast comes out and lectures the VP-elect. I also, obviously, missed the song in Moana that criticizes Conservatives. Enlighten us, Kathleen =)

      • Lyle Lovettorleavitt says:

        Crazy D–
        You should try going back and refighting the Spanish-American War– or the Thirty Years’ War, or the Crimean War– while hoping that the opposite result happens this time.

        Because there’s the same chance that one of those wars will flip the other way as there is that conservatives will come back to win the culture war.

        Bitching about a Broadway musical in 2017? When’s the last time you guys were even visible in American letters and entertainment’s rear-view mirror?

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