Father’s Daughter

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At some point, many, many years ago, we lost each other.

Somewhere, between the teenage years when I rebelled with a fervor that would have any father of two adolescent daughters wanting to take his own apartment for a few years, and the time I launched my own adult life which included college, traveling, building a career, failed relationships and eventually getting married and having babies, I lost him.

I probably lost him long before that.

It could have been as an angsty pre-adolescent, when I stopped playing Barbies and discovered boys, pining for unreturned crushes and playing The Smiths on my Walkman until I’d send myself spinning into melodramatic episodes that turned me into a tweenage cliche. That was probably around the same time I stopped adoring him. When I stopped running to the front door to greet him when he returned from work, his crisp white shirts smelling of the Niagara spray starch my mom ritually ironed them with, mixed with the faint remnants of his Tumbleweed cologne that smelled like sandalwood and the sweat of a long workday, with an even longer commute in traffic.

My sister and I were his joy at the end of his day. We were the sweetness and innocence that punctuated hours spent with hardened adults — mostly men — and navigating office politics, along with the pressure of making sales and meeting quotas and making money and making sure our family had what we needed in our middle class neighborhood, living our middle class lives.

We were his joy when we ran to that door as if someone wildly famous was entering it and we practically threw each other out of the way to get to him first, to capture his attention. We idolized him and crushed on him as little girls do, just as we crushed on those boys whose names I can barely remember from junior high and high school, when I started shutting him out, when I stopped adoring him altogether and he took it personally.

When he’d turn that key to the front door after a long day at work expecting to hear the giggles and squeals of anxious girls who missed him and was instead met with silence. One day, too soon for him I’m sure, he came home to teenagers, who were holed up in their rooms chatting on the phone to their friends or blasting loud music behind headphones, blocking out his words, which sounded ridiculous and archaic to us.

Until last week, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d spent any time alone with my father.

My earliest memory of us having conversations alone were in Kindergarten. I attended some kind of fancy private Kindergarten for a year where I learned French and where I was so painfully shy I didn’t have a single friend. I sat alone at lunchtime daily, head down, staring at the detail and grain of a wooden lunch table, inspecting it so intimately I could have told you exactly what kids had eaten for lunch all week, just by examining the crumbs they’d left behind. I don’t know what I was looking for in those lunch tables, with my head down, avoiding eye contact with my classmates. Maybe I was looking for someone to save me. A friend to reach out to a little girl who was virtually paralyzed by her shyness.

At the time, he saved me. His office was nearby and he would pick me up once a week from school in his baby blue Ford Granada, a boat on wheels, and take me to Bob’s Big Boy to eat a hamburger and french fries. He was my knight in a dark business suit, scooping me up, and it was a welcomed relief. I didn’t have to sit alone at lunch that day, humiliated by my shyness, watching my peers interact with one another from the sidelines.

He picked me up and we quietly ate our lunches together. I remember him not quite knowing how to converse with a five-year-old girl at the time, but I didn’t mind, I was just happy to be with him in the silence, away from a world that made me anxious. At the same time, I’m sure he was equally relieved to not have to share another harried lunch with a potential client, trying to close a sale between bites.

Looking back, we probably saved each other during those days in the late 70s where we met alone on weekdays, mostly in silence, quietly dipping our thick french fries into ketchup and then parting ways, returning to our separate worlds for the afternoon, two socially awkward souls not entirely comfortable in our own surroundings.

And then one day those Kindergarten lunches stopped. I changed schools and my new school was many miles away from his office. I think we might have started to lose each other from that point on, through work and school and life and friends and teenage years and boys and into adulthood, through more work and life and boyfriends and eventually a husband and children.

We have recently tried to find each other again. He’s retired now and he has nothing but time on his hands. He hasn’t worn a starched shirt or business suit in over a year. He lives in shorts. He stopped shaving. He stopped working the endless hours he worked for decades, his workaholic self replaced by a gentler, more patient and  less on-edge persona, someone who has all the time in the world now, while also being painfully aware of the reality that he doesn’t. We are both sobered by the awareness of what time means when you are an aging man who has reached 70. Time seems much more urgent than it once did.

Earlier this week, we took a long hike together on a beautiful February afternoon, two uneasy nature-lovers reunited in a setting we both feel most at home in, where we could rediscover each other, at first with cautious, awkward footsteps that grew increasingly more at ease along the path.

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With every step, it felt as if we were shedding years of pain, of holding grudges, of putting up walls. So many years of not understanding each other, of hiding behind long hours at the office buried in paperwork, of hiding in the arms of the wrong boyfriends who offered a replacement for his love and attention for so many years, shutting each other out because it was easier than giving in, easier than tearing down the barriers we’d built around our hearts to keep each other safely locked out.

And in those years, so much was lost. So very much was lost.

Slowly, we are finding our way back to each other, defrosting after years of iciness, returning to that place we once shared hamburgers and french fries on sunny afternoons, me at five with my tiny plaid uniform skirt, skinny legs in knee high socks, him in his mid-thirties, his starched white shirt smelling of spray starch and sandalwood, two awkward, shy souls rediscovering each other and saving each other at the same time, all over again, before there’s simply no time.

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8 responses »

  1. This was beautiful, sad and hopeful all at the same time. Its hard when we have expectations of ourselves and those we love (parents, kids whatever) and we/they don’t live up to them. I clearly remember the day I fell out of that daddy/daughter idolization relationship. Glad you guys are getting closer again. Wish you the best.

    • Thank you so much for reading. You’re so right. I suppose as a child when we idolize our parents (or *a* parent, in my case, my father) and one day we realize they are simply people who are human and fallible and capable of mistakes, it can be disheartening. I’m immensely happy that we’ve started doing the work to repair what’s been broken between us for a long, long time. It gives me hope and it makes me realize that’s it’s never too late to work on relationships worth fixing. :)

  2. I stumbled across your instagram,( im caligirlcollins) and im so glad i went to your blog. This was absolutely beautiful and im sure hit home for alot of daughters. Im going to be 40 this year and havent spoken to my father in 2 yrs, he hasnt even seen my beautiful baby girl, which saddens me . You described father daughter relationships perfectly. I can only hope to take that hike with my father soon! Thx for the post!

    • Thank you so much for your sweet response. I truly appreciate you reading. I wasn’t sure if my post was relatable because I see so many father-daughter relationships that are strong and in tact in my immediate circle of friends. It saddens me that your father hasn’t met your baby girl too. Family relationships and dynamics can be so hard and disappointing at times. Wishing you lots of hope that maybe there is an opportunity for you both to mend things, even in baby steps, in the near future. It took us many, many years to get here and we’re making progress slowly but surely. I had almost given up hope, but have now realized it’s never too late to reconnect. Thank you again so much for finding this space and taking the time to read! :)

  3. Another Momma who found you through IG ( butterbean10)…because really, who can resist those pictures of your gorgeous boys?
    This post is so beautiful. I felt every word. My father is also almost 70 and time really does seem much more urgent than it once did. We’ve always been close except for those teenager years when everything and everyone is more important than parents. Makes me sad to write those words knowing someday my own son might feel that way. I wish I could go back and tell my Dad that he was always my Prince. Even if I didn’t know it at the time. I hope you and your father continue to reconnect. And thank you for sharing your story. xo Kris

    • Thank you so much for reading, taking the time to comment and for your kind words! You are so lucky to have that natural closeness with your dad. Definitely something to cherish and hold onto. I am diligently working toward getting that same bond back with my dad we once had when I was young. I feel very hopeful! :)

  4. I just nearly cried. Your words are beautiful, as is your relationship with your father. I am also my fathers daughter. We would share ice cream dates that were similar to your burger dates. I wonder when and why I stopped wanting to go for ice cream with u dad? I will have to take him for some soon, before its too late!

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