He tells me I was a daddy’s girl when I was younger. That I used to sit in his lap and put make-up on his face and get him to help me with things. There’s pictures to prove it.
I believe the pictures. But I don’t remember.
In all my memories, it’s my mom that I shared everything with and who I was closest to. Nonetheless, in those early years and in those favorite pictures from my childhood, it’s my dad.
It’s my dad sitting next to me on the training toilet in the kitchen with a pile of books until I learned to pee in the potty. It’s my dad carrying me around on his shoulders like a princess. It’s my dad holding us up with his strong hands and it’s my dad I’m smiling at with sparkly eyes and a proud smile.
As the years went by, somewhere between those pictures and my recollectable memories something shifted, and I was no longer a daddy’s girl. We weren’t close during my growing up years. We didn’t communicate well and we didn’t agree on a lot of things. He was mean. Strict. A disciplinarian. And we didn’t get along.
I resented him for many things and over time those resentments festered. There was a palpable tension and nearly visible wall I’d built between us and no amount of effort was going to knock it down.
I hid behind that wall for years. For protection. For safety. And out of fear.
Truth be told, I was afraid of my dad.
He was a wonderful man with a sensitive, well-meaning heart. But he had a temper and he scared me. So I shut down. I stopped talking to him. I stopped trusting him with my feelings. I stopped seeing him as my dad and began seeing him as an enemy.
I’d watch him in moments of kindness with my brothers, I’d see him gently hug my mom, and I’d see him in his efforts with me. I’d see his heart and his love for his family and his dedication to creating a good life for us all no matter what it took. I’d stand behind my wall and in between the moments of hatred and anger and teenage bitterness, I’d see him.
It’s my dad.
And I knew I loved him in those moments. I just didn’t like him. I didn’t think he liked me either. He probably didn’t. It was pretty clear back then, we didn’t like each other.
But there he was. My dad. This strong, devoted, caring man who although he struggled to show it in the healthiest ways, loved his family more than anything in the world. Including me. I never doubted that much.
Despite his anger and his often inappropriate reactions to things, all throughout my life he was there. But we struggled.
It took a lot of life and a lot of therapy for my dad and I to circle back to one another. But over the years, we began to work on it. He became open to seeing himself and the areas he needed work on. I did too. And then I saw this man who had hurt me (unintentionally) more than almost anyone in life begin to transform.
Slowly but surely, as my adult years unfolded, I began to find him again. Brick by brick I started to take down the wall. He helped me- without knowing that’s what he was doing- by continuing to work on himself. Each little improvement was another brick I could take down.
Finally I could see him again. It’s my dad.
When I became a mother, I began to take steps toward him. I realized how much he had changed and I respected him more than any man I knew. Even in the bad days, I respected him. He was a respectable man. Despite his rage-filled days of volatility and fear-based parenting, he demonstrated commitment. He showed us unconditional love, though I couldn’t accept it. He was a good husband and a devoted father. He represented a true man. A man that I wanted my sons to be around.
And so I tried to match his efforts.
Because it’s my dad.
When I saw him hold my twins in his arms with the sweetest love of a father, and now a grandfather, my heart changed for good. I began to really trust him because I knew I could. As I watched him love my sons, his love for me was expressed. As he bonded to my baby boys, I was able to bond with him.
My sons father hasn’t been able to love them that way or demonstrate the kind of devotion to his family I hoped he would. He wasn’t able to love his sons the way my dad loved us. And it has been a heartbreaking experience.
During the days of realizing I was headed for single motherhood, I was afraid of the lack of male influence in my sons lives. I worried about the void they might feel not having a strong father in their daily lives. But then I remembered.
It’s my dad.
After my husband and I separated last year, my boys have been around my brothers and my dad almost every day. I no longer question or worry about anything lacking in the lives of my sons.
I do all the “dad things” with my sons. But so do the men in my family.
So now when I think, “Who will teach my boys to hunt and properly throw a baseball? Who will show them how to be a husband? Who will demonstrate how to be a faithful, devoted father? Who will show them the heart of a man?”
It’ll be me as much as possible, but there are some things that just aren’t the same. Some things are better with a man’s touch. For those specific things and for my sons, it’ll be my dad.
He’s the man in all of our lives.
It’s my dad that taught my brothers to be the amazing men they are today. It’s my dad that re-won my heart through his love and commitment to his family. It’s my dad that has restored my faith and demonstrated what a real, Godly love and marriage looks like. It’s my dad who has shown me the kind of man I deserve in my life and the kind of man I’d be proud for my sons to become.
It’s my dad.
This post is also a part of the Today Show Parenting Community posts in June for father’s day. Be sure to go over there and hit vote!