My girls are now 20 and 15, and for every year I’ve been their mother I’ve been envious of them.
Is it because of their youth and the years of possibility they have in front of them?
Is it their thick, luxurious heads of hair?
Since their births are the reason I lost mine, absolutely (and you can throw anger in there, too, now that I think about it).
Could it be because of the vocal talent they both inexplicably got and the thrilling rush they get from performing on stage in front of hundreds of people?
Considering I spent every afternoon from 5th to 8th grade in front of my mirrored closet door pretending to be everyone from Annie to Ado Annie which sent my cats—and those in a 5-block radius—running for cover, that’s a given.
No, the main reason for my envy doesn’t actually have much to do with them, it’s got everything to do with the other person who loves them as much as I do (and the person who, to be honest, is just as envious of their thick heads of hair).
I’m envious of their father.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not envious of my husband (except for that whole doesn’t-have-a-uterus-for-a-war-to-rage-in-each-month thing); I’m envious of him as a father.
Let me back up a bit — or 47 years — for this to make more sense.
I had a father.
And by “for awhile” I mean I had a father twice a year for the first 10 years of my life.
And despite the opinion of my mother, he was a good father.
I mean, of course he was. He only really had to be one for the month of July and several weeks sprinkled throughout the year.
But when you’re a child, you take what you get. And what my sister and I got was fun.
In my memory, he’s larger than life, always up for a game of hangman or concentration, ready to blow up ant hills with firecrackers, or ready to push me to the sky in an old tire swing he had hanging from a tree in his backyard.
But for reasons far too complicated and personal for me to get into here, after my 10th year I lost him. And while I’ve exhausted myself over the years trying to make sense of the mess that abruptly left me without a father, I’ve grown to learn it’s a futile exercise. Bottom line? Mistakes were made by adults who should’ve known better, but placing blame at this stage of the game is also pointless. Because making matters even more tragic is the fact that my father died when I was in my early 20s, without me ever having the chance to reconnect. It’s something that saddens me to my core — often — especially when I’ve witnessed the relationship my girls have with their father.
Since my dad was only a part-time dad (at best) before I lost him, and because my mother more than made up for any lack of parental nurturing and love I might have lost by his absence, I have to be honest and say that I don’t remember ever feeling like I was missing out on anything. Maybe it’s because I really never knew what a full-time, healthy father-daughter relationship was supposed to be like.
Until I had girls.
The man I married actually shares a lot of characteristics with those I remember of my dad (they say that’s not unusual in cases like mine — #daddyissues).
He’s funny as hell.
He breaks out into song. A lot.
Over the 23 years we’ve been married he’ll often say or do something that is so like something I (vaguely) remember my father saying or doing that it makes me catch my breath.
And over the years, witnessing the relationship he has made with our girls has made me feel enormously fortunate … and at times, more than a little bit jealous.
Our family unit is tight. And by tight I mean iron and steel, triple-padlocked, Rock of Gibraltar tight. Seriously, when the four of us are together, we could storm a castle. We laugh often; we love fiercely; we’re each other’s best friends.
And because of that it’s hard to separate the relationship my husband has with our girls from the one I share with them. I’m not kidding, he’s every bit as versed in period woes, bra sizes and hormonal angst as I am. (Don’t worry, he’s working on a book.)
But sometimes, I see it.
I see a bond that to me is foreign.
It’s a bond that might not be all that different than the one I share with them, but here’s the thing that sets it apart: it’s extra.
Of course, I had a mother who moved mountains to make sure my childhood wasn’t lacking — and for that I feel fortunate — but what I now realize I missed is simple, and it is enormous: I missed a father.
Sure, I missed the father I had, but what I realize now is that I missed a father I never knew I could have had.
A father who is patient when your mother is not.
A father who cracks jokes to snap you out of your hormonal misery when your mother is too hormonal to do it herself.
A father who will drive you anywhere you need to go at any hour of the day or night without complaint.
A father who will play dress up with you one minute and have a light saber battle with you the next.
A father who will listen as much as your mother does, but can offer you a different —and often refreshing — point of view.
A father who yells at you. Yes, yells at you. Because it’s okay to yell, and because you know it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you any less.
A father who cries when you do something amazing, which he thinks is pretty much everything.
A father who will carry you around on his shoulders on every birthday, even when you’re 20 years old.
A father who understands Euler circuits and will sit up with you until 1 a.m. making sure you understand them too.
A father who won’t let you settle for anything less than your best, and who will support you every hard step of the way.
A father who showers your mother with respect and adoration and shows you how a man is supposed to treat a woman.
A father who you know you can count on. Always. No matter what.
This year Father’s Day falls on our 23rd wedding anniversary, which turns out to be pretty perfect. Because while 23 years ago I knew I was marrying a man who made me happy, I don’t think I could’ve known then how happy I’d be that he’s the father of my children — the one I’m envious of them for having, and the one I’m damn grateful they do.
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