Certain is it that there is no kind of affection so purely angelic as of a father to a daughter. In love to our wives there is desire; to our sons, ambition; but to our daughters there is something which there are no words to express.
- Joseph Addison
I could feel her little hooves pressing down against my back. She jumped up and down excitedly as she gazed at the podium floating in front of us. Normally I would have stopped her, saying how it felt like tiny little pistons were pounding onto my back. But today, with everything that was going on, I decided to let her continue to express her jubilance with minimal interference. Besides, it always warmed my soul to know that my little Dashie was happy.
A massive crowd had gathered all around us, pegasi from all over Cloudsdale standing en masse anxiously awaiting the verdict on which city would be lucky enough to host the Equestria Games that year. We all hoped it would be Cloudsdale, and based on the positive report from the Games’ inspector about a week prior, it appeared that the Games were already ours.
Dashie had been so excited. For the weeks leading up to the big day, all she seemed to talk about were the Equestria Games. Once a filly obsessed solely with flying, the Wonderbolts and napping had found a new stock to invest more of her passion into.
Every day she’d come home from flight school and immediately pull out her new “History of the Equestria Games” book that I had bought her from the local library. She spent hours on end scouring the pages like a researcher trying to collect data for a thesis. In the living room, at the dining room table, in bed - that book went nearly everywhere she did.
She also made a point to collect as much Equestria Games memorabilia as she could: from customized t-shirts and hats, to even a pennant flag that she constantly trotted around the house with, waving it around while singing the Equestria Games’ anthem at the top of her lungs.
Strength and perseverance we define thee with,
You exhibit powers only thought to exist in myth!
Those that embody them shall prevail,
And bring pride from which they hail!
Those that fail might briefly sour,
But the pain shall last no more than an hour!
For being at the games is enough of a win,
So let this year’s Equestria Games begin!
For being a “tomboy” pegasus that hated girly things, Dashie sure had a lovely voice. Then again I guess the gallant nature of the song made it less frou-frou in her mind. Not that I cared, hearing her sing with such enthusiasm was wonderful.
It didn’t matter how many times I told her the decision to hold the Games in Cloudsdale wasn’t set in stone and that it could still very well go to another city, she wouldn’t stop acting like a rabid fan. I guess that shouldn’t have surprised me. Dashie always was an excitable filly, plugging impulse into the equation before considering reason.
Finally the big day had come. We left our house early in the afternoon and arrived before almost everypony else, save for the excessive fans that arrived early in the morning, before Celestia even raised the sun.
Thanks to our punctuality, we managed to find space near the front edge of the cloud that gave us a pristine view of the podium - empty and waiting for the announcer to come out and announce whether Cloudsdale would be the next city to host or not. Each of the three nominated cities - Las Pegasus, Fillydelphia and Cloudsdale - had an announcer that would reveal the winning location at approximately four.
Though the crowd was thin when Dashie and I arrived, it didn’t take long for the space to fill up as a massive crowd of ponies filled in all around us. I could hear grunting and cursing all around, ponies behind us pushed and shoved in vain attempts to get a better view. Some tried to fly above the masses, but found their attempts futile when ponies in front of them did the exact same thing, blocking their view.
Those close enough to the front that didn’t have to worry about anypony flying up in front of them took advantage of it and remained airborne, content in the notion their view wouldn’t be blocked. But they soon found themselves yanked back down to the cloud by irritable ponies behind them that had grabbed their tails, clearly thinking it was unfair that they got such a great view at the expense of everypony else. This only caused more tension to ripple throughout the crowd.
I could hear some scattered arguments consisting of venomous tones and hateful cursing. I even heard what sounded like hooves clashing with flesh, and for a moment was worried what impact the chaos would have on Dashie if it continued to spread through the crowd, afraid that it could mentally scar her.
Fortunately most of the ponies directly around us remained neutral, acting with a civil sort of excitement and cheering “Cloudsdale, Cloudsdale, we’re the best!” yada, yada, yada.
I glanced up at Dashie and got a good look at her face, her eyes gleaming and her little flag in her hoof. I realized that even if the arguing did get out of control, she probably wouldn’t have been impacted much. Her excitement seemed to seclude her in a bubble, enabling her to ignore any eccentric behavior as she put her focus solely on the the podium, which was the reason we were there in the first place.
“Ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh!” Dashie squealed, her tiny wings buzzing as she lifted off of me for the briefest moment before landing again. “This is so awesome! The Equestria Games? Here?” My daughter at that point let out the cutest squee I’ve ever heard in my life and my heart felt like it melted ever so slightly.
“Cool your jets there, Dashie.” I laughed. “And wait for the announcer to reveal the host city. It still might not be us.”
“How can it not be! I mean look at Cloudsdale, it’s amazing!” Rainbow Dash said, gesturing all around her to emphasize the magnificent nature of our city. I have to admit, she drew me in to the point where I felt myself get giddy. She then lowered her forelegs and sat against my chest. “They’d be crazy not to pick us! After all, no city outside of Canterlot is as beautiful as Cloudsdale.”
“Beauty is only part of the Equation,” I said, “there are other things that are factored in, like hospitality and culture and how many activities and tourist attractions each city has outside of the Games.”
“And we rule at those, too!”
“So do many other places,” I said.
“Geez, Dad,” Dashie laughed, looking down at me and giving me a tiny noogie, slightly messing up my mane. “You’re such a downer. You’ve got to have confidence in our city, otherwise what’s the point of coming out here?”
I smiled and reached up to fix my mane, “I know, Dashie, and I am confident that we’ll get chosen. I’m just saying don’t be crestfallen if the judges decide there’s a better city to host than ours.”
“But there isn’t,” Dashie said, her cocky nature blocking out my point. “It’s gonna be us, I can feel it in my bones!”
She hopped up and down a little more, once again messing up my mane and making mentally pray that we’d be chosen. I didn’t want to imagine how devastated she would be if we were not picked.
A few minutes later, we could see the announcer, a white pegasus with a blue mane, making her way to the podium. The entire place transitioned from bombastic chatter to thunderous applause for the announcer. Smiling, she waved her hoof for silence, which we obeyed with a hush. Rainbow kept bouncing like a little bunny atop my head and I couldn’t help but smile at her enthusiasm. After the announcement was made, we were going to head home so I would whip us up dinner: baked potatoes and salad, which Dashie loved. She tended to stick with a much healthier diet than most fillies her age, which I attributed to an article she read once that included an interview with the captain of the Wonderbolts and her idol, Aurora Flare. When Aurora was asked about tips she’d give to young ponies that aspired to become part of the Wonderbolts, she suggested working hard and eating healthy.
Dashie treated these words from Aurora like some sacred scripture written by Celestia herself, and followed them devoutly. She worked out almost every day and limiting her fatty food and sweets intake. She still ate a decent amount of sweets (how could she not when there was a bakery on every corner?), but she always kept Aurora’s words in the back of her mind and would make sure her main courses were somewhat healthy.
The feeling of Dashie leaning forward against the back of my head brought my attention back to the podium where the announcer took her place and cleared her throat, holding an envelope in front of her.
“In my hoof I hold the envelope with the name of the location, which will be lucky enough to host the upcoming Equestrian Games.”
Cheers erupted all around. I even gave a “yeah” while Dashie screamed as loud as she could while waving her flag around wildly, her voice cracking as it climbed to an unprecedented volume. You know your daughter is loud when you have ponies in a crowd staring at you like you were doing something truly bizarre when Dashie was only doing the same thing everypony else in was - screaming.
I gave each of them a small nod and smirk as if to say ‘yeah, that’s my daughter’, before turning my attention forward to ignore the feeling of eyes pressing all around me.
“Ohhhh this is it...” Dashie squealed, popping her little red pennant flag into her mouth and bracing herself for the news. I smiled with the knowledge that this would be a day she’d cherish forever.
“The Equestria Games go to....”
Dashie further leaned forward, her heartbeat thumping with such intensity that I could feel it against my skull. She was now leaning so much that I had to prop my head up slightly to keep her from sliding off. Butterflies filled my stomach. Truth be told when it came to the Equestrian games, I would often get so pumped that my maturity level would fall to that of a young colt rather than a fully mature stallion. At least that’s what my wife used to tell me.
“...the city of...
“Cloudsdale, come on.” Dashie whispered through her grinning teeth, between which she continued to hold the flag tight. I smiled, waiting for the name Cloudsdale to be read and the inevitable cheers to erupt. For a second, I forgot what I had told Dashie about not being overly confident in the results. I found myself so certain of us getting named, I mentally pictured how I’d jump up and down on the cloud, pumping my hoof while Dashie cheered wildly from my head. I’d then pull her down and hug her, both crying at the wonderful news.
Once the announcer uttered the last word, I quickly realized that I should have remembered my own advice and listened with a cautious optimism rather than a youthful overconfidence.
To this day I am not completely certain as to how the rest of the crowd reacted to the news. I’m pretty sure there were some “oohs” and “awws” as the crowd joined in a collective misery. But I am not entirely sure if I imagined their vocal disappointment or not because at that moment all of my attention was snagged by a single pony’s reaction - the pony standing atop my head whose hopes had just been - no pun intended - Dashed.
That scream coming from the mouth of my daughter was enough to sting my heart as though I had been stabbed. Sure, losing the games was a great disappointment, but it was nothing compared to how painful it was to hear Dashie’s expectations explode right in front of her in the form of a white pegasus with a microphone.
Though for a brief moment I forgot my own advice, I still acknowledged the possibility that we could lose it. It was something that came from experience, something you learned as time passed by and and world around you became clearer.
But Rainbow Dash was still a young filly, a filly that - from the moment I broke the news to her that Cloudsdale being considered - never let the possibility of us losing cross her sweet little mind.
I was much the same way when I was young, watching my favorite hoofball team - the Cloudsdale Wings - with the constant expectation that we would win because they were my team.
Dashie was a lot like me in that regard, so I knew that had I been her age, in her place at that precise moment, I would have reacted in much the same way she did: screaming “no” like somepony had died, leaping almost twenty feet into the air, with her hooves sticking up in a most dramatic fashion. I saw the flag that had been in her mouth fly out and land somewhere in the massive crowd.
That was the last I ever saw of it.
Dashie then slowly made her way back down to the surface of the cloud, her head low and her wings limp by her side. Her eyes started to fog up and I caught the glimmer of tears as they ran down her cheeks.
I wasn’t sure what to say or do, so I said out the most generic thing a father could say when her little girl needed comforting.
“Dashie I’m sorry.”
She sniffled a little and sat down, shaking her head. “It isn’t fair, how could they not pick us?”
I sighed and trotted over. The announcer kept speaking to the devastated crowd from the podium, saying things like “great effort Cloudsdale” and “there’s always the next Games”, but none of it helped because no matter how many reassuring phrases that mare in front of the microphone could utter, none of it would help Rainbow Dash feel better.
I gently scooped her up and let her slide onto my back, “Come on, Dashie let’s get going.”
I trotted off, my daughter clinging to the back of my neck and quietly crying into my mane. Even when horribly upset, she didn’t sob. Dashie was never one to draw unwanted attention to herself. In fact, the dramatic leap into the air she did was far more of a reaction than I expected from her. But I suppose she never showed disdain for expressing her frustration loudly, just crying.
Crying was for the weak, she so often told me.
We reached the edge of the cloud, I started flapping my wings so we were airborne and made my way back home. As we went along, I could see some other ponies flying past. They clearly had left the Games’ announcement after hearing the bad news. The looks of disappointment on their faces was all the proof I needed for that.
I could feel Dashie’s head move up from the back of my neck. She was looking around at her environment, tiny little sniffles escaping her as she would pause every so often to wipe her eyes.
“Dashie you alright there, sweetheart?”
She sighed, “No. I don’t understand why they didn’t pick us.”
“Well there are a lot of great places to chose from,” I said. “And Fillydelphia is a great city.”
I knew those words wouldn’t be enough to satisfy my daughter, so I wasn’t surprised when she spat a typical Dash-like response. “Yeah, well, their hoofball team stinks.”
I couldn't’ help but snicker. Being a Cloudsdale Wings’ fan meant I loathed the Fillydelphia Eagles, who were our rivals. So naturally, I had to agree with my daughter’s point.
“I couldn’t agree more with that. But the city itself is very nice. I went there plenty of times before with your mo...” I stopped myself before I said too much. I cleared my throat and continued, “er...I mean. I’ve been there a lot.”
“Whatever.” She said, leaning back against me as we continued home. She let out a sigh and I could feel as she began playing with my mane, twirling it around with what I assumed to be an odd mix of disappointment and boredom.
I wish there was some way to cheer you up.
As if answering my call, I caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a tiny collectibles shop. The lights inside were on, so I took that as a sign that it was still open. Smiling, I glided over towards the entrance and pushed my way in, a tiny bell rang to signal my arrival to whoever was working.
It was cramped, every inch of the place seemed to be stuffed with any bit of memorabilia the owner could get their hooves on. I could make out the smell of warm cider, looking around to see a steaming mug at the front counter. Nopony was at the register, perhaps the employee was going to the bathroom or was simply in a different part of the shop. The place had everything from comic books to movie posters surrounded us, but I knew Dashie didn’t have an interest in any of that stuff, at least not now.
I flew off towards the back of the shop where I knew they had the sports memorabilia. Once there, I landed and let Dashie hop off of my back, landing beside me with a soft “thud”. She looked around, her eyes taking in the sight of the different memorabilia around her. Posters, and shirts and hoofball jerseys and cards. I knew that she loved collecting Wonderbolts and Wings’ apparel, and often wanted to come into this shop to look around. I usually would take her after she did something particularly noteworthy, like when she first was able to hold herself in the air and control her flying, which was something she was still working on. But at this point, I felt like I needed to do something to make her feel better.
But this time she reacted differently. She didn’t show the same excitement she normally did when I’d take her to this shop. Her eyes still showed great apathy, like I had just taken her to school instead of a place filled with awesome, flashy things she could buy.
“Ta-da!” I said with a huge, fake smile as I tried to hide the hurt I felt for her. “Thought you might like to look around and pick something out.”
“Yippee,” she said rather enthusiastically. She trotted through the store and I kept myself right behind her. She looked at the various shirts imprinted with images of Aurora Flare and even some replica suits. She looked at the colorful pictures, many of which had been autographed by somepony famous. Finally she got to a wall covered in various posters, most of which were framed with rolls of copies beneath them.
“Find anything you like?” I asked.
She turned slightly towards me so that I could see her eye, but she still wasn’t looking at me. She gave me a small shrug and continued on. After almost reaching the end of the wall, she turned around.
“Nothing at all?” I asked.
She shook her head, “No, Dad. Can we please leave, I wanna go home.”
I sighed and trotted over to her just in time for her to fall back on her flank and stare at the ground, her lip quivering as she tried to hold back the tears. I gently placed a comforting hoof onto her shoulder.
“Dashie listen to me, I know you’re disappointed that we aren’t hosting the Games, and I completely understand that.” I swallowed, “But it’s not the end of the world.”
“Maybe not for you,” she whispered. “But I’ve been looking forward to hosting the Games since I heard about it, I mean I was so sure that we’d get it and the fact that we didn’t...” She looked down, her bottom lip quivering.
I opened my mouth to respond when a white pony trotted into view. He wore a pair of thin-rimmed glasses, a watch, and a shirt emblazoned with the Cloudsdale Wings’ logo - a wing with flames shooting off of it.
“Hello there. Can I help you two find anything?” He asked with a salespony’s grin - kind but not to be trusted. I moved slightly, revealing Dashie to him. Once he saw her sad face, his smile fell like he discovered that he had said something stupid. “Oh...”
“Give us a few minutes,” I said. He nodded and flew off to another part of the store.
I took a seat beside Dashie and placed a reassuring hoof around her. For the first time I not only saw my daughter, I saw myself, and I knew that I had to make things right.
“I know how you feel,” I said, “when I was young, the Wings made it to their first Championship. I was so pumped. My favorite team had made it all the way, and from my standpoint they looked unstoppable. In my heart, I knew they were going to win the game, you know. How could my favorite team lose to some other? Heck we got tickets to the game.”
Dashie looked up at me, her eyes damp with tears. “What happened? Did they lose?”
I gave her a sad smile, the memory of that game stinging my mind like heavy cider. “They got obliterated by the Canterlot Alicorns by almost thirty points.”
“Wow...that’s pretty bad,” Dashie said with a bit of humor in her tone, though her eyes still showed her pain with their slight dampness.
“I know, right? It was downright humiliating, especially since I knew some ponies from Canterlot. They rubbed it in my face for months.” I laughed softly. “I remember feeling so broken about the loss. I...I cried about it. To me it felt like the world ended that day.”
Slowly her sniffling stopped.
“But then my father, your grandfather, pulled me aside as everypony started to leave. And he pointed to the crowd and told me to look up, so I did.”
Dashie looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to continue. “And?”
“And I saw a young filly about my age wearing an Alicorns’ hat. As she walked by us, I saw her cheering and hopping around like a kangaroo. At first I only got angrier and thought Dad was rubbing it in my face. But then he told me some of the wisest words I’ve heard in my life. That had we won, that very same filly who was so happy, would have been just as upset as I was. That I would have been the one hopping around excitedly, waving our teams flag and cheering that we won...and most likely sticking my tongue out at Canterlot fans. I was never the most humble winner.”
I laughed, and so did Dashie.
“Anyway, what I’m getting at is that my experience at that game was sort of like what happened today,” I continued. “Think about it. I guarantee that had we gotten the Games, there would be fillies and colts in Fillydelphia that would have been just as devastated as you are right now.”
Dashie slowly nodded in understanding, wiping her eyes with the back of her hoof. She looked back at the floor and I could tell that, while she understood the point I was making, she still felt let down. I looked behind her when a poster caught my eye. It had the image of Aurora Flare on it above a message written in hot orange.
As wonderful as victory is, it hasn’t served to teach me quite like defeat has.
I tapped her on the shoulder and pointed at the poster. She looked up, her eyes starting to widen. “Whoa, that’s a cool poster of Aurora.”
Her excitement at how the poster looked was my first indication that she was feeling better, so I pointed to the text. “Yes, but read the text beneath her.”
She read the text out loud and as she drew towards the quotations end, she slowed down as if letting what she had just read sink in.
“See, failure isn’t always a bad thing. It may sting at first, but eventually you learn it’s not the end of the world. It’s not whether you win or lose that matters, it’s what you learn from the experience.” I said, “Not everypony’s favorite team can be victorious, and not everypony can be happy. You win some, you lose some. That’s life.”
She nodded and gave me a small smile, “Yeah, I guess I can see your point.” Her face then fell, “But I still hate losing.”
“Oh don’t get me wrong, so do I.” I said. “And I’m not going to sit here and say it didn’t hurt me when that announcer said Fillydelphia, it did. I wanted Cloudsdale to be picked as badly as you. I mean, having the Games here would have given us the ultimate father-daughter bonding experience.”
Dashie tilted her head, looking at me in confusion. “Then how were you able to get over it so easily?”
I shrugged, “I put it behind me and moved on.”
“Wow,” Dashie said, “How can I do that?"
“Well, use the loss to your advantage and work hard to improve so you’re ready for your next opportunity.” I said. “Sure the Games are out of your control, but there’s always the next Games, and you can work hard right here to make sure Cloudsdale gets it next time.”
A fire lit within her, I could see it in her bright eyes. “Yeah!” She practically shouted. “I’ll make sure we get the Games at some point. And if I can’t, I’ll work hard to help somepony else get them because I don’t want to see anypony as upset as me.”
“Wow,” I said, stunned by my daughter’s sudden burst of knowledge that I didn’t know she had. I never thought she was stupid or unintelligent, but coming to such a mature conclusion at such a young age made me feel a bit prideful. “Yeah Dashie, that sounds like a great idea.”
Though when I said that, truth be told I couldn’t see her getting super involved in bringing the Games anywhere but to Cloudsdale, and even then she was just a little filly. But small fillies have vast ambitions and imaginations so I let her have it.
Dashie pointed to the poster of Aurora, grinning from ear to ear. “Can I have that poster, Dad? Please?”
I smiled, “Of course you can, that’s why I brought you here.”
“Awesome!” Dashie leapt up, her tiny wings buzzing like those of a hummingbird. I grabbed one of the pre-rolled posters and we made our way to the check-out. I paid for the poster, Dashie hopping up and down beside me, and then left. On the way home Dashie was laying on my back. She wasn’t asleep, but I could tell she was on the verge from her shallow and relaxed breathing.
“Dad,” she whispered.
“What is it, kiddo?”
“When are they announcing the location of the next Equestrian Games?”
“Two years.” I answered. I could hear my daughter let out a small sigh of disappointment and I knew that I had to come up with something to make her feel better. “But um...the Wonderbolts are supposed to come to Cloudsdale in a few months, I could probably get us some tickets to that, so long as they haven’t sold out yet.”
Dashie let out a small laugh, “That sounds...” she yawned long and hard, ”...that sounds awesome.”
I smiled and continued flying. Up in the distance I could see our house, the sun slowly making its descent behind it, creating an aura of light around it as if marking it as our final destination. Dashie nuzzled into my neck. A moment later I could hear tiny snores escaping her lips. I chuckled, happy that she had calmed down enough to drift off into a peaceful slumber. I landed on our doormat and slipped into our home. I flew up the stairs and made my way into Dashie’s room.
It was small and filled with all kinds of Wonderbolts memorabilia. I think she might have had more Wonderbolts stuff than the collector’s store we were just at did. Outside the sun was almost completely set, only the upper crest was visible to give the sky an orange hue. I softly lay Dashie down onto her bed and tucked her under the covers so she could sleep while I made our dinner. I placed her new poster, still rolled up tight in its clear wrapping, at the foot of her bed and made a mental note to hang it up later on.
I gave her forehead a gentle kiss, causing her to fidget a little before she returned to a peaceful stillness. Satisfied that my daughter was no longer upset and now resting, I left and made my way downstairs and into the kitchen. I pulled out some plates and forks and napkins, laying them out on the table so I would have less to do later.
I trotted over to the refrigerator to grab what I planned to make when I my eyes landed on a photo that had been stuck to the refrigerator door with a magnet. I froze, staring at it without blinking. It was a picture of us, all of us: Dashie, me, and Zephyr - my wife.
Slowly, I reached out and pulled it out from under the magnet, and bringing it close to my eyes. I looked at all of our smiling faces, happy with our lives when we were whole. Dashie was much smaller than she was now, an infant with the most pinchable cheeks imaginable. She was so adorable that I feared my blood converted to molasses simply by looking at her in the photo.
Dashie hardly remembered Zephyr, and part of me hated that. But the other part felt a sense of relief, thinking that possibly that was why she had been able to deal with everything that happened - to her it was less vivid than a dream.
But I couldn’t forget Zephyr, and I knew that I would never stop missing her until the day I too left this world and we could finally reunite. Smiling I raised the photo up and gave it a gentle kiss right atop Zephyr’s colorful face. I gazed back down at the picture and smiled, almost perfectly reflecting the smile I had in the image. It was a smile forever frozen in time, back when we were whole.
We have one heck of a kid. I only wish you could be here to watch her grow up with me.
I carefully slipped the photo back under the magnet and opened up the fridge so I could get dinner started.