I’m of the age that when we played with Barbies as kids, Ken went to work and was tossed under a chair. Dads worked, most moms were home. As kids, we had no idea what Dad did all day. We saw him for dinner, on weekends and the annual family vacation. Many dads of this time had little regular interaction with their offspring.
Despite my cavalier treatment of Ken, my dad was involved. Looking back, I realize that he was in fact, a bit of a trailblazer. His job involved some travel away from home, but for the most part, he was very much present. Though Mom was the day-to-day hands-on parent, Dad frequently took on the morning school drop off and supervised bathtime (often while serenading us while practicing his guitar). He also made sure he attended any important event that was within his power.
While my mom and I have always been the best of friends, my relationship with Dad has been different. We are close, but growing up, our conversations were about different things. This of course makes sense and Mom and Dad's personalities and parenting styles complemented each other. Experts say that a child’s relationship with Dad (especially girls) is indicative of their future success. They say that Dad’s encouragement is important to self-esteem, more so than Mom’s. Though I’m not sure I necessarily agree with that assessment, I consider myself lucky to have a dad who believed I could do anything.
When it came to schooling, my sister and I were going to college. There was never an if. What we chose to study was up to us, but that degree was important and was going to be achieved. Having reached a ceiling himself (he didn’t go to college), he wanted more for us. We were encouraged to follow our dreams. Following traditional roles or reaching for glass ceilings were both viable options, but he wanted us to have the tools to succeed no matter what choices we made.
Looking back, I find it a bit surprising that my dad never showed any disappointment that he had no sons. I don’t remember a single instance in my life where us being girls was an issue. If we had an interest, he was willing to share it. We were not limited by gender. He didn’t try to make us conform to any norms. If we were happy, he was happy.
Dad was a good listener. Heart-to-hearts were common as a teenager (though I quickly learned that they were uncommon in other households). I rarely got advice from him, but instead got “What do you think?” I now know that he was teaching me to weigh options, to carefully consider the facts and come to a conclusion. When I had struggles in college, I knew I could call him to talk things through and that everything would work out
He had unwavering faith in me. When I was learning to drive, he calmly gave instructions (with his hand casually resting on the emergency brake) as I navigated a brand new Nissan Z car through busy city streets (on second thought, what was he thinking?). When I questioned (and ultimately changed) my career path, he supported my thoughts and opinions. When at 20, my life took a major unexpected turn, he gently pointed out the positives. No matter what challenges I had, I knew that he believed I could overcome them.
He was thoughtful. He somehow figured out the secret to talking to getting teens to talk: plan one-on-one time and get in the car where there is no need to make eye contact. We had many early Saturday morning trail rides (after driving almost an hour to the horse farm) and regularly chatted on the 20 minute trip to my part-time job. When I didn’t have a date for my Junior Prom, he simply asked me if I wanted to go to the movies; there was no mention of what everyone else was doing that night. When I made a substitution in a dessert recipe (a teaspoon of cinnamon instead of a teaspoon of cinnamon candies), he ate every one of the horrible baked apples, insisting he liked them.
He didn’t take himself too seriously. He allowed my sister to dress him like a punk rocker one Halloween (complete with colorful hair) and would sit on the floor playing Pretty Pretty Princess with my girls when they were young (earrings, crown and all). Saturday mornings growing up was cartoon time. We would both lie on the floor, watching Tom and Jerry and the Superhero cartoons. I don't remember him ever implying that anything we suggested was immature or beneath him.
Dad taught me to believe in myself. Though my life has had its share of twists and turns, he has been there, encouraging me to find the strength he knows is deep inside me. His believing in me has made me a better parent and a better person. He has and always will be a hero to me.
A version of this first appeared at Sammiches and Psych Meds.