I’m from the generation who, when we played with Barbies as kids, Ken went to work and was tossed under a chair. Dads worked, most moms were home. We had no idea what Dad did all day, we just knew he left each morning and came home each night. Today things are different. Today’s dads have a more active role in childcare.
Despite my treatment of Ken, my dad was involved. Looking back, he was, without knowing it, a bit of a trailblazer. His job had him traveling quite a bit, but when he was home, he was very much present. He acted as chauffeur, supervised bathtime (often while practicing guitar) and was at any important event it was within his power to be at.
While my mom and I are the best of friends, my relationship with Dad is different. It makes sense that they complement each other. Experts say that a child’s relationship with Dad (especially girls) is indicative of their future success. They say that Dad’s encouragement is important to self-esteem, more so than Mom’s. I consider myself lucky in that regard.
When it came to education, to say he encouraged us would be an understatement. My sister and I were going to college. There was never an if. What we chose to study was up to us, but Dad insisted that degree was important and was going to be achieved. We were encouraged to follow our dreams. Following traditional roles or reaching for glass ceilings were both viable options.
Looking back, I find it a bit surprising that my dad never exhibited any disappointment that he had no sons. I don’t remember a single instance in my life where our being girls was an issue. If we had an interest, he was willing to share it. He didn’t try to make us conform to any norms. If we were happy, he was happy. Throughout my life, my dad has been there, cheering me on. In some ways, he has shown me how to parent, especially when dealing with the tricky teenage years.
He listens. Heart-to-hearts were common as a teenager (though I quickly learned that they were uncommon in other households). I rarely got advice, but instead got “What do you think?” He was teaching me to weigh options, to carefully consider the facts and come to a conclusion. When I had struggles in college, I knew I could call him to talk things through.
He has faith in me. When I was learning to drive, he calmly gave instruction (with his hand casually resting on the emergency brake) as I navigated a brand new Nissan Z car through busy city streets (on second thought, that I think is an example of temporary insanity). When I questioned (and ultimately changed) my career path, he supported my thoughts and opinions. When my life took an unexpected turn, he gently pointed out the positive side. No matter what challenges I have had, I have known that he believed I could overcome them.
He is thoughtful. He figured out the secret to talking to getting teens to talk: plan one-on-one time and get in the car where there is no need to make eye contact. He gave up many early Saturday mornings to go horseback riding (after driving almost an hour to the horse farm) because he knew that I had an interest. When I didn’t have a date for my Junior Prom, he simply suggested we go to the movies; we didn’t talk about what I was missing. To this day, he has not forgotten a Valentine’s Day (each year he sends candy and a beautiful personal note).
He doesn’t take himself too seriously. He allowed my sister to dress him like a punk rocker one Halloween (complete with colorful hair) and would sit on the floor playing Pretty Pretty Princess with my girls when they were young (earrings, crown and all). He tries new things and will even revisit things that didn’t go so well in the past. During one trip to the roller rink, he spent most of the time sitting on a bench, but not before rolling backwards, looking a little alarmed, and then gracefully sitting down. The fear of looking foolish didn’t keep him from having fun.
Several years ago, my dad confided to me that he regretted not spending more time with us while we were growing up. Of course I told him that was ridiculous; he spent a lot of time with us and was much more involved than the fathers of our friends. Now that I am a parent myself, I see that we often think we could have done better. Sometimes we need a reminder that we have done good.