Last night, we sat together to watch President Obama’s farewell speech. I was tickled that he quoted Atticus Finch. But then, there is always such a rush of joy when someone uses a reference that brings you together. One quote ties so much emotion and meaning in a few words.
Whether this happens by quoting the great literary minds of our times or an obscure little movie, it hardly matters. What is important is that with one quote we assert our points of correlation. Sure we can be different in a billion different ways, but we all have more in common than not.
But the moment that choked me up was a simpler one. He turned to his eldest and said of her and her sister, “You are smart and you are beautiful but more importantly, you are kind and you are thoughtful -- and you are full of passion…”
Always a proud father, I hung my head because it hurts to watch fathers and daughters have a moment I never will. And then, he sucker-punched me with the perfect unconditional declaration of paternal love: “Of all that I have done in my life, I am most proud to be your dad.”
Understand that I have not been starved of love in my life. I had a literal village looking out for me and loving me, willing me to overcome and blossom. I had three generations of women pulling for me and reminding me that I had within me what I needed to succeed.
My Mom is the best role model any person could pick to emulate, she is my conscience, and she loves me and nurtures me (without ever losing objectivity that she is dealing with a flawed person).
Just as well, there were family and friends who did not seek to be paternal figures but whose presence in my fatherless life constituted at least the ideal of what a good father might be (and quite a few fit the bill in their own families).
My grandfather, who was my bona fide father figure, never would have bestowed such praise upon me because the things I did right, in his mind, I should be doing because it was my duty—not because I may be loved for it. I did love him at some point in my early childhood, but I soon discovered that his love was conditional. He gave nothing freely. And while I may have been his pride and joy, addressing it would have made him look weak and he’d never have that. Multiple failures in parenting apparently taught him nothing in that area.
My father, when he remembers that we are related, generally congratulates himself on the accomplishment of being my father. I’m not sure why. He has barely acted in that capacity—if you need accountability, he was there, more or less, for what could account for about 3% of my entire life (including conception and gestation). His greatest accomplishment was scoring with Mom and I can’t for the life of me figure how he managed that, because she was way hotter than he ever was! Smarter too (except for the one time). So even if he said the words, it wouldn’t mean anything because at the very least half the statement would be untrue.
What’s left is a cynic with a double barrel of daddy issues. Or a realist that recognizes that families come in many configurations, and in some the paternal figure is a shadow rather than anything useful or even real.
Or, as scores of other (fatherless) unloved girls, a woman spending half her waking hours looking for approval in all the wrong faces… These are the more interesting stories and the basis to the infidelity stories I’ve been writing.
(See? I had no choice: I had to become either a writer or a stripper!)
But then, I don’t write the kind of story that starts with, “I’m proud of you, pumpkin!” I’ve learned to live with that gaping hole—and plugged the emptiness mostly with chocolate and more-Mom-for-me. Still, I am glad that this father figure exists and, as much as it hurts to watch, I am honored to have witnessed just a little bit of the joy I’ll never know.