“Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too.”
– John Mayer, “Daughters”
I used to be a big fan of greeting cards – Instagram-esque images on the front, the oh-so-eloquent sappiness that makes up the text inside. But these days, I’m finding that Hallmark doesn’t always capture the essence of occasions. Here in my sepia years (not near ‘golden’, mind you) mass-generated greetings don’t cut it.
Looking for a Father’s Day card to recognize my husband, I hovered over a card on the rack that pictured the quintessential daddy-daughter image: A black-and-white picture of dancing feet – a little girl’s bare feet perched upon her father’s leather Oxfords. I love that image.
Isn’t that what father-ness looks like?
What does it look like, as a reel – instead of a snapshot? It is a no guts, no glory endeavor. Father-ness also looks like a million other little acts of devotion.
It looks like canceling long-awaited plans to attend a chorus concert/band performance/theatrical production that a child forgot to mention until the day of.
It looks like children whom he has advised can “tell him anything” will, in fact, tell him anything.
It looks like forgoing something he wants – or even needs – so that the girls can have what they want and need.
It looks like giving 100% in the little things, like positive reinforcement for clean dishes and put-away laundry.
It looks like giving 100% with little or no notice for big things – like weddings. Moves. Driver’s licenses.
It looks like unselfishness.
It looks like knowing a child’s favorite birthday cake flavor, and going to all the grocery stores in town until you find it.
It looks like making taking the time to hear their points-of-view of his kids (even when they make no sense, even when they are “wrong”.)
It looks like insisting that they treat their mother/step-mother with respect, even in the sassiest teen years (such a mouthy time!)
It looks like openly loving God, while respecting the truth that each daughter is on her own the journey to discover that God is real.
It looks like praying on behalf of each one of them, every day.
It looks like midnight runs to the skating rink, and dropping four other loud, yapping, excitable teens off at their own houses, so their parents don’t have to make a midnight run. Sometimes, it looks like four or five loud, yapping, excitable teens having a sleepover at his house.
It means rolling with the punches, constantly – without harboring resentment, or bestowing guilt on the children.
It looks like valor, quietly.
It looks like giving away his life’s treasure to her new husband on her wedding day, and making that day as memorable as possible for her.
It looks like buying class rings that he knows will be worn once, and then sit in a drawer. And it means never mention a word of the expense again.
It looks like treading the fine line to deal with a daughter’s choice to date the over-cologned, greasy haired, lip ring-wearing, juvenile delinquent, junior Bad Ass (completely unworthy of her,) without being overbearing (thus increasing the boy’s appeal ten-fold.)
It looks like buying feminine hygiene products when necessary – without embarrassment. Without missing a beat.
It looks like stick-to-it-ness when going through the drudgery of parenting, honestly – the day-in, day-out homework inquiries.
It looks like having stunt-man like ability to roll off the drama.
It looks like learning – and accepting – that all three daughters respond differently to different situations, that “one size” rules, privileges, and relating does not fit “all.”
It looks like honoring our daughters, even when their behavior is not honor-worthy.
It looks like standing in a darkened window with a notepad in-hand to write down the license plate number of a boy who has picked up a daughter for a date. (Date my daughter? Be ready to be properly vetted. ) Note to daughters: Yes, he did this – and with enough forethought to make sure the dining room lights were off before you left. Better visibility.
It looks like shuttling kids to doctor appointments, play practices, sleep-overs, and SAT tests. And back again.
It looks like listening to Christina Aguilera, when he’s in a Robert Cray kind of mood.
It looks like being the practical parent; not always getting to be the fun parent. It looks like school supplies instead of frivolities, in leaner times.
It looks like treating your wife exactly the way you want your daughters to be treated by their husbands.
My Beloved’s flesh-and-blood daughter was born with the privilege of calling him “Dad.” He has raised her most of her life. She is a married now, still Daddy’s Girl at 22 years old.
“Most people experience just having a mom raise you – or even both parents if you’re lucky – but I always just had my dad,” she recently told me. “He is the one person who told me what he thought and then let me make my own decisions without judgment…always dropping everything to help me, and giving me the biggest hugs, even when we don’t see eye-to-eye. He has given me a life to be proud of, always giving me the best advice and showing me how to better my future. “
For my own two daughters, My Beloved came on the scene when they were 10 and 13; the first and only man I dated as a single mom that my daughters immediately gave the stamp of approval (I only dated a couple, I swear!)
“Mom didn’t really have any boyfriends before my step-father, but she did go on dates occasionally,” my youngest, now 18, says. “Being the grumpy child that I was, I did not like any of them, but something about him was different. He didn’t just care about mom; he cared about my sister and I – and he went out of his way to show it. A few weeks into his relationship with my mother, he surprised me with a necklace of my favorite animal – a penguin. It had a gold chain and crystal eyes, and came in a penguin-shaped case. It wasn’t my birthday or anything … he just wanted to show me that he cared. I hoped that he would be my stepfather, and I am so grateful that it happened!”
My eldest, also now 22, came to appreciate that he put in the time with parental grunt work: “A lot of things stick out to me when I think about my step-father,” she says. “He took time to come to all my school events and basically ‘owned’ us all from the get-go. One of my favorite memories is recent – just last month – when he came and sat with you during my tonsillectomy even though he didn’t have to….even though I was pretty out-of-it, and wouldn’t have known if he had skipped it. Waking up and seeing that he was there, that meant a lot to me. That’s just who he is. He is really that person.”
What does Father-ness look like, really look like?
So much better than a Hallmark card; so much deeper than Instagram-esque imagry and sappy sentiment. Off the rack; a reel of a million little acts of devotion. And some really big ones.
It looks like love.
Footnote from My Beloved’s daughter, Lynzee, who is leaving to be with her husband stationed in Japan in just a few days:
I’m not a very adventurous person. But you always told me, ‘You’re never going to see what the world has to offer you unless you put yourself out there and try new things.’
So now that I’m an ‘old married lady’; I have a chance to go to Japan for three years. Even though I haven’t left yet, I already miss you.
Thank you for working so hard. You’re always my secure place to call home. You are an awesome dad, and I love you.”