My father and I get along much better now, but our relationship has endured many struggles that we continue to address and overcome.
As a child and teenager, I craved his love and attention, and the language of our discourse was sports and running. I played soccer, field hockey and lacrosse for several years, always finding him on the sidelines, supporting me no matter the outcome. Nearly every day I joined him for a jog around the lake behind our home. We did not speak, but I enjoyed pacing my stride with his as we pounded the nearly two-mile trail.
However, those moments were sadly outnumbered by so many others that strained our fragile relationship. He was a person of few words and offered very little affection. Rarely, did he tell me he loved him that I remember. Combined with his temper, he lashed out at my siblings and my mother. We never knew what his mood would be when he returned from work and from visiting his parents and siblings nearly every weekend.
When I left home after graduating from college, I wanted to be as far from him as possible — in my heart. I did not want to understand his limitations nor mine. I just wanted to recover from the pain and find a new life. Indeed, I wanted to hate him, but I couldn’t.
My father has a tendency to surprise me with his insights into my character, especially since I did not believe he noticed me or even cared for me at times. In my mid-twenties, I was searching for a professional position, and my friend suggested joining the military as an officer. When I discussed this idea with my father, he laughed and said, “You following orders without question? I don’t think so.” That revealing statement put the kibosh on that pursuit.
I realized the depth of my father’s love for me when I was contemplating not marrying my son’s father. Plans were in action for the wedding, which would occur before my pregnant belly was showing. I thought it was the right thing to do — marry this man — but I knew in my gut that we were not a good fit. Our goals were hopelessly diverging and our characters clashing. Neither of us would have been happy together.
A few weeks before the wedding, my mother and I went out to lunch with the intention of buying her dress for the event. As we broke bread, I unleashed my fears and pain, telling her that I did not want to get married, that I did not love him, that I did not want to be alone raising a child. “Your father wanted me to tell you that you don’t have to marry him and that you can live with us,” she said. My heart melted. My father knew me and loved me. With that statement and my parents’ support, I found the strength to say no.
During my pregnancy, I lived alone in an apartment in a small Pennsylvania city more than an hour from their home. My mother and father tried to persuade me to live with them because of their fears about my health and safety. But my doctors, who were a five-minute drive from my apartment, were superb and were taking excellent care of me, tracking my condition and sharing developments. Daily my mother called me to make sure I was OK, and every conversation was shared with my father.
When I went to the hospital, my mother and father were the first people I called. My parents and my friends stayed with me and helped me. Those more than 24 hours before my son’s birth were terrifying. Our lives were at risk as my body escalated to a state of eclampsia. The decision to have a caesarian section was made; my initials were scrawled clumsily on a document that granted my permission for a procedure, which was completed in nearly an hour.
In the days following my son’s birth and my painful recovery, my father was in the hospital every day with my mother. He walked me up and down the halls. He talked to me. He cared for me in such a tender, loving manner that left me in disbelief. This was my father? This was my father.
This man held my tiny newborn son in his arms. So gently. So lovingly. Every day for the six days I stayed at the hospital.
This man watched and listened attentively as the nurse instructed him on how to pad the car seat properly. My son was a preemie and required extra precautions.
This man welcomed my son and me into the home he shared with my mother.
This man took the vacation and personal time he accrued over many years to stay home with my son so I could work. For months, I met him at 1 p.m. each day after my shift ended — I worked from 4:30 a.m. to noon — at a meeting point at his workplace where I picked up my son so my father could work a half-day.
This man changed my son’s diapers and fed him.
This man laughed and talked with my son.
This man took my son’s hand and walked him around our yard and pushed his stroller.
This man … he is older now as my son enters high school. He walks a bit slower but he is still sharp. He helps my son with his homework. He enrolls him in summer camps, among them tennis, and practices with him. He grows a garden with my son in my backyard.
This man not only loves my son but he loves me. I know this now. And I love him too.
I am so grateful to have a father who is truly my dad.
On Thursdays I will be sharing a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent. Every fourth Thursday, instead of a personal post, I will put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.
I would love to hear from you! Feel free to send any comments and questions to me at email@example.com. I am also on Twitter @parentsonurown and can be found by searching #singleparentandstrong.