I don’t need to blog about the impact dads have on their daughters’ lives. We’ve all seen studies about how much better life is with a good father figure. But the world probably does need to know that there are some dads out there doing their jobs right. Dads like mine.
Maybe we don’t hear about these dads too often because there aren’t many of them. Or maybe it’s just too hard to really express what they mean to us. There are plenty of songs dads have written about their daughters. They write about how awesome they think they are…and share memories like fishing with their daughters, driving with their daughters, or, especially, dancing with their daughters. But how often do you hear daughters talk about what these moments mean to them? I can’t speak for what my dad was thinking when he saw his little bleached blonde girl in a tutu, Nala shirt and jellies on the dining room table trying to swing from the chandelier, but I’ve asked Dad about some of his favorite moments. You can listen to all of the daddy/daughter songs from the other side’s perspective, but here is a glimpse into what I was thinking during all of those special moments.
What Daddy saw: A wide-eyed 3-year-old tapping his shoulder at 1 a.m. during a lightning storm, explaining that she was scared.
What she was thinking: On this particular night, I was thinking that a giant had picked up the house, shaken it, put it down, and was now stomping around the house. My vivid imagination must have been incredibly exasperating at times. I was easily frightened because of it, and remember going to get Daddy on numerous occasions during thunder storms. I also remember him walking me back into my room, putting me to bed, and holding my fist until I calmed down. I never held hands. I would make a little ball with my hand, and he would completely cover it with his big hand.It reminded me of how big he was–and how he could protect me from anything. He would quietly talk about the angels protecting me and explain that there was no reason to be afraid. He was in the next room. He would save me. He was my daddy.
What Daddy saw: A 5-year-old riding in the trailer behind the tractor he was driving, dangling a jump rope out of the back. She snagged it on something. Rather than letting go, she held on until it pulled her out and onto her head in the underbrush.
What she was thinking: On that particular day, it was something along the lines of imagining that I was the daughter of one of the early Western pioneers in a covered wagon. I was leading my horse behind me with my jump rope. Why didn’t I let go? That part I forgot when I hit my head. In general, I was under the impression Daddy needed my help with the yard work. If I couldn’t help, he needed me there to talk to him and keep him company. When I was making woodchips with the axe on that log rather than splitting it properly, hauling little twigs while he basically carried felled trees or rode along in the back of the tractor, it never occured to me that I was in the way. Daddy made me feel wanted and interested. He really wanted to know about my dreams to train giant squids at an aquarium when I was older. He really wanted to listen to my 5-year-old, oh-so-uneducated questions about his work with the coal purification process. He just wanted to be with me, because he thought I was special.
What Daddy saw:An 8-year-old dancing by the campfire while he played her favorite song on the guitar.
What she was thinking: “He’s playing that for me, because I am the most beautiful dancer in the world. He thinks I’m so good. He watches all of my dance recitals. I wish this song would go on forever. I’m the happiest girl in the world.” Here’s how weekend evenings often broke down: Daddy played, I danced. I didn’t get it at the time, but his encouragement taught me to be confident at an age when many little girls are unfortunately learning to be self-conscious. Daddy made me feel like the belle of the ball–even though my only audience was the rest of my family, the lightning bugs, and the stars overhead.
What Daddy saw: A 12-year old trying to learn how to cast a fishing line in the front yard. She got it stuck in the house gutter behind her instead of the bucket he had set up for practice.
That day I was determined to show Daddy that I could cast a fishing line. I had this idea that dads with sons went fishing, and felt badly that Dad didn’t have a son to take. When I snagged the dog, a bush, and then managed to get the line horribly tangled in a gutter on the roof, I felt utterly defeated. Dad didn’t say a single negative word. He got the ladder, climbed up on the roof, and untangled it. Then you know what? He started doing cartwheels. Cartwheels. On the roof. As I stood there jumping up and down, squealing in excited terror, any feelings of ineptitude dissipated. My daddy was so cool. He thought hanging out with me was fun, even if the dog was the only thing I ever caught with my fishing pole.
What daddy saw: A 19-year-old swerving down the driveway and running over the election sign he had put in the yard. For the 10th time.
What she was thinking: “Ok. Daddy’s watching. I want him to think I’m a good driver. Don’t hit that yard sign. Don’t hit that yard sign. Don’t hit that yard sign. I LOVE THIS SONG! Thump. I hit the yard sign. Good grief, what’s wrong with you Martha? You can’t even back out of the driveway! What an idiot!”
If anyone had the right to think I had gone stark mad, it was Dad. I gave him plenty of reason to worry when I was backing into the family car, getting lost in my home town or falling down the stairs on the way to college classes. But when I was at my most stupid, he was always able to correct the behavior, laugh, and move on. He didn’t make me feel dumb. Sometimes the best way to say “I love you” is giving a smile, walking patiently down the driveway, and straightening your mangled election sign one more time.
What she was thinking: There’s my Daddy. I’m home.
I don’t know a thing about being a dad. I will never be one. But I’m an expert on being a daughter–and I’ll always be one. Here’s what I know: Little girls want to be loved. They want their daddys to think they are infinitely interesting, enjoyable and beautiful. They want to be protected. They want to be wanted. And they want to know wherever they are, whatever they do, they have a home in Dad’s arms.
There’s a big difference in knowing you are loved, and knowing you are worth loving. The best fathers convince you of both.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad! When you were chasing me around the house with a pillow, playing Pretty, Pretty Princess, brushing sticks out of my hair, sewing my Brownie badges on my sash, helping me coach a swim team, tutoring me in chemistry and dancing with me at my sister’s wedding, you were convincing me.