Growing up, I didn’t have a dad.
I had a man who was married to my mother for twenty-something years and lived in the same house I grew up in.
I had a man who kept my mother, my brother and I nervous when five o’clock came and the garage door opened and his car pulled in to park. We never knew what volatile version we’d be getting that day; the romantic husband and doting father who tried to win our love and affection with endless apologies and material gifts, or the angry and tense attacker who would erupt in violent rage if the dinner was too cold or a piece of mail was out of place or my mother’s appearance wasn’t to his satisfaction.
I had a man who called me “bitch” more than he called me “sweetheart” and slapped me across the face more than he gave me hugs. He choked me for disagreeing with him during a football game and pushed my mother down the stairs, breaking her ankle, because she wasn’t sleeping with him enough. He punched my brother in the stomach for telling him to leave my mother alone and he threw me to the ground by my hair when I tried to stop him from hitting my mother in the kitchen.
I didn’t daydream of a father walking me down the aisle or holding his grandchildren for the first time. I didn’t know what it was like to be a “daddy’s girl” or hold my father to some unrealistic standard that would be impossible for another man to match.
Growing up, I didn’t have a dad, so I had no idea what would happen to me when I saw my partner become one.
I had a man who went to every doctor’s appointment and researched every pregnancy ailment and collected pamphlets on every pregnancy complication. I had a man who smiled when he found out we were expecting twins, and who held me tightly until I stopped crying when we found out we had lost one.
I had a man who ran around excited when my water broke and helped me change out of my (very wet) pants and who had the go-bag packed weeks in advance. I had a man who walked the halls with me while I labored and set up the bath for me so I could try and relax and who stood up for hours, helping me sway back and forth in an attempt to manage the pain that meant our son was coming.
I had a man who didn’t judge me when, after ten hours, I had an epidural and who stood by my side through an additional thirteen hours of labor and delivery. He held my legs or helped me reposition or told me that I could do this, we were almost done, he was almost here.
I had a man who, when holding our son for the first time, could do nothing but stare at him, overwhelmed with responsibility and vigilance and adoration.
I had a man who’s kind and patient through endless nights of feedings and fussing and understanding and calm through exhausting days of tantrums and teething.
And I have a man who, while changing a diaper and unaware that I was watching, told our then 2-month-old, “And hopefully, one day, you’ll find someone as beautiful and smart as your mom. And you better treat her right.”
I may never have a father who walks me down the aisle or holds his grandson for the first time. I may never be a daddy’s girl or hope my father approves of the amazing man I get to parent with every day. But I will get to watch my son’s father play with him in our front yard, throwing a football around or wrestling in a way that will probably make me nervous. I will get to watch my son bond with his father over fishing trips and camping excursions and baseball games.
I’ll get to see my son look forward to five o’clock, when dad comes home, instead of being afraid. I’ll get to see my son learn how to treat a woman with love and respect and admiration and, eventually, I’ll get to see him tell a very lucky girl that it was his father who taught him how to treat women.
Growing up, I didn’t have a dad. But my son does, and that is more than I could possibly ask for.