When I was five months old, the two people who conceived me sat in an office somewhere and signed away their rights to raise me. They opted out of chances to hold me, comfort me, and watch me grow. They gave up the opportunity to know me. Whether or not they wanted influence in my life, their decision that day made a lasting impression.
If the story had ended there, it would most likely be a tragic one. On days like this, I think about how grateful I am for the man who was under no obligation to be my father – the man who chose me.
My father tells a story about the very first time he saw me. He says I looked up at him, and when our eyes met, I smiled. That, he tells me, was the moment his heart decided I was his.
I pretend to be sick of that story almost every time he tells it. I even joke and suggest the smile was probably gas, but I will never get tired of listening to him tell it.
I have been an emotional person since the day I was born, and my father has always fancied logic. I have always admired his ability to think — when the obvious reaction is to cry, but I have not always appreciated it. It made for some very interesting moments during my childhood, and also some pretty volatile ones in my teen years. It wasn’t easy.
I was not easy.
Of all the people in and out of my life the last 37 years, my father is the only person I’ve never worried would leave me. I have struggled with abandonment issues my whole life in nearly every relationship, but never with him.
I cannot explain the bond I feel where he is concerned, or pinpoint the moment it started, and I have never questioned it. Perhaps the connection was mutual that day at the adoption agency. He has just always felt like my dad, and I have never felt anything but unconditional love from him; even when I was sure I didn’t deserve it.
My father has seen me through many beautiful, terrifying, and horrific moments. He is the person I call when shit hits the fan – when I’m feeling overwhelmed and need help refocusing, or when I question my human abilities.
His is the voice in my head.
My father is the reason I got sober at age 22, and has always quietly motivated my desire to be a better person by holding me accountable. He had a front row seat for the, “I don’t give a fuck” phase of my drinking career and tried to help me. However, after it became clear I was merely taking advantage of his kindnesses and attempting to anchor him to my misery, he kicked me out.
At the time, I was shocked and furious. I loved the victim role, and it actually turned out to be a terrific sob story to tell at the bar and get sympathy drinks.
Over the years, I have come to regard my father’s decision as my saving grace. It allowed me the freedom to dig my own grave and decide for myself that I wanted to live. It taught me that limits, edges, and boundaries exist in love – that just because people love me doesn’t mean they must put up with my bad behavior. I’m grateful for those lessons, and appreciative of the fact that someone loved me enough to take action when I refused, even though it wasn’t fun.
The decision to kick me out haunts my father to this day. Even though I’ve made it clear I wouldn’t be where or who I am today if he hadn’t – it pains him.
Sometimes being a parent isn’t about making sure our kids don’t struggle, or giving them everything they want and keeping them happy. It’s not about enforcing the distinct differences between right and wrong and then hovering to make sure they do what’s right. Sometimes, being an incredible parent means setting and example, doing our best to instill the importance of accountability and integrity, and then trusting in them – in their strengths. Sometimes making the right choices for our kids means forfeiting comfort and control.
My father taught me these things. They are some of my most valued lessons.
When I stood head to head with my own teen-aged daughter years later, it was his example I leaned on. It was he who talked me through the treacherous months, while I argued and chased the hybrid version of myself, and the stagnating fear of letting her go.
I am forever grateful for the opportunity to be my father’s daughter. I want to thank him for every discomfort he willingly experienced to offer me the opportunity to grow into the woman and mother I am today.
I wish to make clear that I salute all fathers; however, I’d like to hand out some extra high-fives to all of the men who step forward to fill the empty spaces left by others.
To the stepfathers, adoptive fathers, foster dads, and all other male guardians and father figures to girls:
You will never understand how much she loves you and appreciates your presence in her life.