Now, I want all of you literature majors out there to shut up for a minute. Yes, I know what many folks assume that piece is about. And YES, if THAT was what I was talking about, then making this a post for fathers about their daughters would be…really, really creepy. But I’M NOT and it’s NOT, so go sit in the corner with your sheepskin and chuckle to yourself.
With that over, I’d like to dedicate this post to my own father, who kept the roof overhead, the bread and meat on the table, and while he never bought me that horse I always wanted, he always supplied all the horsepower I ever needed – and sent me away to college in a Mustang. All in all, I’d say I got the better part of the deal. None of this is intended to be critical of any choices anyone ever had to make (or still has to make.) It’s a piece about fathers and daughters, that’s all.
Dad worked a lot. That’s an understatement. Dad STILL works a lot, and Dad is retired. My Dad came from that generation of fathers who had never heard the phrase “deadbeat dad” and if they had, would have immediately thought of those draft-dodging hippies. Or smelly poets with greasy hair. They might sort of be the same. Dad didn’t change diapers. Dad didn’t give bottles. Dad didn’t sit up with colicky babies all through the night, because Dad had to get up at the crack of dawn and go to work.
Dad meted out justice. Hard, bottom-line, no-frills, justice. There was no arguing with the Chief Justice. Oh, you could try. Oxygen is free, and very few people will jump in your way if you decide to go ahead and start working on your own grave.
Don’t get me wrong. Dad also took over projects that little girls would start and then have no clue how to finish. Tables and chairs for the playhouse. Hell, the playhouse itself. I remember sitting in the garage half the day at around 9 years old, trying to saw my way through a 2×4 with a handsaw – when Dad came home after a 12-hour workday, he found me sitting there with my little saw and my ragged cuts, and fired up the circular saw. I watched for awhile, then ran off to dinner. The next morning, there sat my homemade table and two stools in the back of the garage, with a couple of cans of spray paint sitting on top, ready for me to finish. I took an extra 1×4 piece from the scrap pile, about a foot and a half long, and painted it gold with black letters that said “Dad’s Paintbox” for his paint cabinet. He still has that little sign in his garage, nearly 30 years later. It’s a different garage and a different cabinet – but that little sign moved 3,000+ miles across the country with him.
Once I was in high school, my superhero Dad very quickly became the bane of my existence (second only to Mom – but I was a teenage girl, some things are to be expected.) I recall several specific instances, but the one that has always stuck in my mind was when I talked to Dad about going on the “Senior Trip” to Myrtle Beach after graduation. Most of my friends turned 18 before graduating, and could do what they wanted (or liked to think they could.) I didn’t. My brother had gone on the same trip four years earlier when he graduated, so I was looking forward to it. But when I asked Dad about going, he just laughed and said, “No.” My jaw dropped. “But my brother got to go!” Dad kept chuckling and shook his head. It was so simple to him, and he couldn’t believe I didn’t see it. “Honey, you’re a girl.”
Mom heard the whole thing, and just stood aside. Later, she tried to explain to me: “He still sees that nine year old girl in the garage, building stick horses out of broom handles and tube socks. Give him a break. He was always so busy…he feels like he missed out on so much.”
At the time, I was just mad. Plain, old-fashioned, teenage-girl mad. Such white-hot fury is the sole province of girls of that age. Any older, and we wouldn’t survive it, so furiously does it burn. I heard Mom, but I didn’t really hear Mom.
When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years. – Mark Twain
So – go back and read that poem you thought you knew. Read it from another, less snicker-worthy point of view. Read it from a Dad’s point of view. Or read it from an older daughter’s point of view, to her Dad, speaking about a grandchild. Or read it from a mother’s point of view, to her father-friends (or other mother-friends.)
Somebody has to work. Roofs must be kept over heads. Meals must be put on the table. Do I feel like I missed out on something, having had a father who was so busy all the time? No – because he provided for us and I appreciate that. Do I feel like he missed out on something? I know he did. He knows he did. Something that can never be recovered. So while all those things have to be provided by someone, that same someone deserves to get to experience the joy of the life he or she is providing.
My own husband is a Mr. Mom. He changed as many diapers as I did. He sat up late into the night. He held the crying baby, he played with the happy baby, he metes out justice, he goes to the beach and to the playground. When I travel away from home for work, he does all the work of a single parent while I’m away. He’s as engaged in our daughter’s life as I am. He’s able to do that because we both work to provide for our family. It’s not up to one of us to carry the burden alone – and it’s not up to one of us to experience the joy alone.
It’s still hard. We both have to make sacrifices all the time. That’s what parents do. There’s still times when no one but Mommy will do – and there are also times when our little girl just wants to hang out with Daddy.
I don’t want him to go through what my own Dad went through – and by that, I mean I don’t want him to look around one day and realize that his little girl is gone. That somewhere in there, while he was working and hoping and praying, she grew up and went away, and he missed it. So I make sacrifices, too, and I drag him out of the house when he doesn’t always want to go, and I lock myself in the bathroom for ridiculously long periods of time, and I encourage him to take breaks from working to just go outside and play. It’s not always just because I want some time to myself (although sometimes it is.) Sometimes it really is because I remember how sad my Dad looked on my graduation day, and on my wedding day, and on the day my own daughter was born.
So far, I think we’re doing okay.