Long-Distance Dad

I read a story on social media the other day about a couple that observed a dad on a date with his young daughter. They saw the love this dad had for his daughter as they giggled and talked. He was making sure to spend quality time and give his daughter lasting memories. This gesture touched them deeply, so they sent a note through the server letting him know they were sorry to eavesdrop but watching them brought a warmth to their hearts. They went on to say that neither of them grew up with fathers, and watching them together was priceless, and they paid for their dinner.

Reading that story made me think of my dad. I have a great relationship with my dad today, but it took many years to get there. My parents divorced when I was about a year old. My mom moved us back to her hometown, which meant I was no longer in the same city as my dad. I remember seeing him a couple of times a year. When I was about five, I remember flying to see him for a few weeks during the summer. I loved to fly and felt like a big girl going all by myself. I was given special privileges by the flight attendants (or stewardesses at the time), like handing out peanuts to the other passengers and meeting the pilots. I was the first one on and off the plane and would run to my family upon arrival. 

After being with my dad for a couple of days, I would get homesick and want to go home. I missed my mom, my room, and my routine. It was a confusing time, and although my dad and stepmom tried to make my time with them fun, I felt out of place, almost like a guest visiting. I have fond memories of my dad, playing tennis with him and going to the tennis club. I remember him coming to my softball tournaments and holidays. He always made an effort, and for that, I am grateful. Divorce can do plenty of damage, but I was lucky enough to have a dad that truly loved me, but I still craved the father-daughter connection you get when growing up in the same home. 

My mom was married three more times and had several boyfriends throughout my childhood. To some extent, each husband seemed to be a stand-in father. I think they enjoyed my effort to act as their daughter, and I was getting a little of what I felt I was missing. I don’t think my father was as thrilled, but 50+ years ago, that’s how things were.

I wanted my dad and me to have a close relationship, but I didn’t know how to create one. I remember one time driving in his car. It was a two-seater, and I was in the middle between him and my stepmom. I was dozing off, so I thought to myself, maybe I could lean towards my dad and put my head on him. He gently pushed me back and told my stepmom to keep me towards her. In my young brain, I felt rejected by my daddy. In my adult brain, I know it was just a safety issue. I felt hurt by this for many years and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t very affectionate.

At the age of 13, my sister was born. As the years went on, I began to feel jealous. It wasn’t her fault, but she lived with my dad, and I didn’t, but she was getting the attention I never did. When I visited, I felt more like a guest in their home and had nothing in common with her due to our age difference. We were two different people that lived utterly different lives. My dad is a generous man, but when you hear about holidays spent in Hawaii or ski weeks and things that you have never done or places you have never been, you begin to feel left out and unwanted.

The worst part of the situation was not having the ability to call my dad “dad.” It was incredibly awkward for me to refer to him as anything, so I would find ways not to address him at all for many years. I called my stepdads by their first names, and my dad had no name. I became very close to two of my stepdads, and I had even considered having one walk me down the aisle for my wedding along with my dad. That marriage ended, and choosing who would walk beside me was no longer an issue. Thank goodness because I would have never forgiven myself if my dad was not on my arm.

As each decade passed, my dad became a more significant influence in my life. He is my strength and my sounding board when I need it. I realized I was very much like him even though he didn’t raise me. I am proud to be his daughter. My dad is stable and calm, has never let me down or been too busy to listen or give advice. Like any parent, there has been advice I didn’t want to hear, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t great advice. He is kind and caring, doesn’t push me or tell me what I have to do but encourages me to find the correct answer. It was a long road to get to today, but I always knew my dad loved me. It didn’t matter how far away he lived, how often we spoke on the phone or saw each other. My dad knew the circumstances of our situation and made the best of it even when I couldn’t see the positives. 

But like most good things, they come to those who wait. I have the maturity, time, and understanding on my side. I am happy to report I have the father-daughter relationship I yearned for all those years ago. I have my dad, and I couldn’t be a happier daughter.

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