Friday, January 29, 2010
Fathers and Daughters
This is a tough topic for me, I concede, because:
A: my relationship with my father is a mixed bag.
B: my relationship with my father is hard to define.
C: my relationship with my father is capricious.
And those things all mean the same to me, while remaining completely divergent.
Without too much detail, I'll simply say that I have made my father proud many times; still, I have disappointed him probably just as often. He is a man of a few words, as most men are, and I never really know where I stand, how I measure up. He is a man's man: a NRA-touting, deer-stalking, fast car-loving, John Wayne-model of a person. The kind of guy who can recite lines from Bridge Over the River Kwai without skipping a beat. The kind of guy whose bad mood can change the tone of a room without him uttering a word. All you need is to hear that heavy exhale, and my three brothers and I know to brace ourselves.
Perhaps this why I revel in watching the relationships between Mark and our daughters. The dynamics they share are quite unlike the connection that I had with my father when I was a child. And part of me is rather envious.
Take Crazy Hair Day, for example.
Kendall needed a 'do that would qualify as "crazy hair" at preschool this week. Now, I can pull off braids. I can straighten Grace's wave. I can twist some curls. But I cannot do "crazy hair." Cosmetology is not listed on my resume of skills. And it never will make the cut, either. So I tried to formulate a plan the night before about how crazy I could make her hair. I thought about gels, spray glitter, parting it on the side. I couldn't decide. I even dreamt about it.
That morning, I descended the stairs in a rush. About 15 minutes stood between me, crazy hair, and the time I had to run out the door for school. "Keni," I yelled, "let's figure out the crazy hair."
But as I reached the family room, I found Mark quietly smoothing Keni's blonde locks that extend down her narrow back. And I watched.
Calmly, he created sections; slowly, he pulled the brush through; carefully, he turned and twisted her long strands into three equal ponies.
And I watched. With envy.
For here was a father--also a strong silent type, a man often of few words and a brooder in his own right--giving attention to the small details that a daughter needs. I watched and wondered if my girls realize how lucky they are that he is patient, that he remembers the names of their stuffed animals, that he volunteers to play Chutes and Ladders, that he does "Baaayybeee Bath Time" without my prompting, that he carefully picks out their clothes each morning. When I was a child, my father didn't have time for such particulars. I don't remember him at a swim meet, or when I cheered, or when I danced at recitals. Common interests revolved around his interests, not ours. Plus, he had more on his plate, I guess, and so our relationship today wasn't built on nurturing or close attention, but rather existence. Or perhaps, obligation. Or perhaps. reaction to what I've done right, done wrong.
I don't judge him for that, for he is who is. Luckily his investment in parenting evolved when my two younger brothers were born years later, much to their advantage. I acknowledge that, in recent time, he has connected to me as we've both aged, and for that I am thankful.
But tonight, as Grace suffers from an angry stomach flu, it is Mark for whom she cries to carry her to the bathroom, to give her solace. Me? I want to scurry to the basement, find somewhere to hide, avoid the temporary suffering that she undergoes. I want to ride my bike, do laundry, find an excuse.
I guess, in the end, I am not unlike my pop. Still, my hope is that our daughters are like their own father, and that they realize one day how blessed they've been.