It is hard to explain what I lost when my father died. It is even more difficult to explain how much of him remains with me, even five years after his death.
As with many women, my father’s influence remains an enduring force in my life. For some of my friends, it’s a scar that threatens relationships and self-worth.
But I am one of the lucky ones.
For me, my father’s love continues to give me courage and confidence even without his physical presence. I have somehow learned to go on without his notes of encouragement, his bear hugs and his”just-to-say-I-love-you” phone calls. But what hasn’t changed is how often I still hear his words in my mind.
Whenever I experience disappointment, I can still hear him say the words I heard since I was a toddler:”I love you and I’m proud of you.” When things go well, I find my first instinct is to tell my father about my accomplishment. To this day, I sometimes reach for the phone before stopping myself, remembering he is no longer there.
As a child, I took my relationship with my father for granted. I assumed everyone had a dad who loved and cared for her.
As a teenager, some friends complained about being beaten by their fathers and their biting words. For the first time I realized my own father wasn’t like all the rest.
As an adult, I have learned how very special he was. Some of my friends spend countless hours in therapy just to let go of the pain caused by their fathers. And I now realize much of my mental and spiritual health was aided by my dad, a man who saw himself as nothing special but who never failed to make me feel like I was.
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I marvel at the wisdom of a man who told me,”You deserve to be treated well,”thus enabling me to turn my back on boyfriends who were less than respectful and bullies in business who tried to intimidate me.
I am amazed to think of how often he told me I was beautiful, giving me a deeply rooted sense that I didn’t need to worry about how I looked or seek out men who cared mostly about physical attributes.
My intellect was encouraged, my business sense acknowledged. Never once did my father give me a signal that girls should act differently than boys. And yet by loving me as he did, he encouraged the development of my femininity.
Now I see that I have fewer fears about men than some of my women friends whose earliest encounters with the opposite sex created a sense of dread. And as a mother, I find myself raising my two boys with the goal of becoming men like my dad.
The impact of a father on a daughter is so great that I find myself preaching to my men friends about caring for their girls.
When I see a man stroking his daughter’s hair, I am tempted to say to him, “Do you know that the memory of your touch may get her through something 30 years from now?” And when I see a man ignoring or criticizing his girl child, I want to say, “Please stop and think how hard you will make life for her. Try to understand that your words today will echo through her mind over and over again.” My father never liked to have much of a celebration on Father’s Day. He always said being a dad was such a joy that he couldn’t imagine why anyone made a fuss about it.
But I now know that it is important to girls to make a fuss over their fathers. And it is especially important that fathers make a fuss over their girls.
A man’s relationship with his daughter is a complex mystery, a puzzle containing the possibility of lifelong confidence or disabling misery.
I am one of the lucky ones. This Father’s Day I celebrate the memory of a man who loved me so well he gave me a gift that continues on without him.