When you get old enough, you start to experience those moments in which your adult self smacks your kid self on the forehead and says: “this is what your parents meant all those years ago. They weren’t really talking just to hear the sound of their own voices. They had a point.” Being a young adult with a baby has its challenges, but one of the perks is how my relationship With my dad has changed. Looking back now, I know with certainty that I wasn’t an easy child, let alone teenager, but at the time, I thought my dad was pretty tough with the rules.
He was always a hard worker and expected the same from me. Around report card time at school, his work shirts always seemed to have extra starch in them and his loafers clicked a little louder down the hallway. He expected a lot of me and I was afraid to disappoint him, but not because I thought he would love me less. It just seemed like he was always holding himself to such high standards–working a little harder than he did the last time–that I felt like I had to push myself like he did. I wanted him to be proud of me because I looked up to him and cared about what he thought of me.
Of course, there were plenty of times that I was not on the straight and narrow path, resulting in moments that I’m sure were far from “proud dad” moments for him. There was the time my dad had to bring my brother and me to work with him when we were about 4 and 5 because my mom was working the same shift. We had been instructed to play nicely with some benign office supplies like paper, pens, and labels, but somehow I caught a glimpse of the intoxicating shine that was the stapler and several minutes later, my father was rushing my brother to the ER. I had decided his fingers were much better candidates for stapling than the copious amounts of paper in front of me. Shortly after that incident, I wrangled my brother and his best friend, Ryan, into the back seat of my mom’s t-top white “Z” sports car and settled myself into the driver seat to show the boys how I could turn the radio on without turning the car on. That night my dad came home to my mom’s car smashed into our garage door. (A very mischievous move on my part, but let me just point out that I had enough unsupervised time on my hands to set this whole joy ride up AND the keys were in the ignition, car was in gear, and no e-brake on. So..perhaps my mom and her friends were hittin’ the wine coolers a little too hard that day and were busy crimping each other’s hair instead of, you know, watching us.) There was the time when I was 12 (a time I detailed in one of my earlier posts) that I attempted to light a Newport Light cigarette on our gas stovetop range for my first smoking experience and singed off the tips of every one of my eyelashes. Talk about instant karma…or just a really poorly conceived plan. And as the teenage years rolled on into the early twenties, there were a couple of boyfriends that made my dad question my decision making skills and mood swings that made him wonder what the hell had gotten into me. And there were lots of days in our father-daughter relationship that seemed so hard that we couldn’t optimistically count on better ones ahead at the time.
At 32, my relationship with my dad has really changed. I’m married to a good man–which has proven the positive development of my decision making skills. And I have an 11-month old son who has acted as this magical lens that has brought everything into focus for me. I can feel the love for a child that my dad felt for me as he held me in my first year of life. I have whispered the same promises to myself and to my son that he whispered to himself and to me. I have accepted the responsibility that he once did to protect my child and to raise him in a way that pushes him to be the best person he can be. I feel scared the same way he once did about my ability to live up to that challenge.
When my dad holds my son and becomes Pop Pop, it feels like one of those full circle moments–a moment in which my mischievous childhood mistakes, teenage trouble, and our father-daughter debates were well worth it. Because in the end, as a daughter and now a parent, I want to make my dad proud. Because I look up to him and I care about what he thinks of me. Here’s hoping I’ll do as good of a job with my son so that he might be thinking the same thing one day.