I grew up in a house with a man who didn’t know how to love me. Then I grew up and I married another one. Daddy issues are no joke.
Today I put my darling little Benjamin in a barn jacket to take him to daycare. My dad used to have a coat like that, too. In fact, for the last few years he was alive, I don’t know that I ever saw him in another jacket. A lot of people have barn jackets. I had one. Probably everyone in my family had one at some point. But no one quite filled theirs out the way dad did his. Everyone else was sort of enveloped by their coats. Dad — the supremely masculine man that he was — really told that massive jacket who was boss. He wore it instead of the other way around.
Benjamin already looks a lot like my dad. Probably because he looks like me and I happen to look like my father. But every now and then B flashes a facial expression that just about stops me in my tracks. And then I swallow hard and I say, “Oh, you certainly are Benjamin Joseph, aren’t you?” My dad was Joe. Is Joe.
I’ve been reliving my dad’s last few days quite a bit lately as one of my best friends is going through an absolute horror of a hospital scenario with her mom. Then tonight I was watching Glee and one of the characters was in the hospital just begging his unconscious dad to squeeze his hand. And I thought, I did that. I did exactly that. I did that after they told us that my dad had a 13% chance of survival after the cath-gone-wrong and the heart attack. Everyone was talking softly to him and in my hardest voice I said something like, “Dad. Dad. Can you hear us? Come on, dad. Give us some sign that you can hear us. We’re all here, dad. Show us that you can hear us.” And, goddamnit, his eyelids fluttered and it looked like he was trying so, so hard to move or to speak or to something. We yelled for the nurses and I told dad to squeeze the nurse’s hand and I just kept talking to him in that hard, commanding voice that I got from him. He looked like he was trying but the squeeze never came. And then they told us to let him rest. When I had to leave later and I told him goodbye, his eyelids started fluttering again when he heard me speak. And that was the last reaction I ever got from my dad. But it means something — everything — to me that he tried. I guess it was a validation in some way. He noticed I was there. It made a difference to him. Perhaps … I mattered?
Now, here, I have this little guy who is the spitting image of dad sometimes. And this wee munchkin not only knows how to love me, he makes it extremely clear that at certain times I am the only comfort in the world that he’s interested in. He snuggles into my neck and shoulder in a way that makes me believe that we were perfectly molded to each other to be in that position — and it’s always perfect, no matter how big he gets.
And today Benjamin had his little barn jacket on. And I could scoop him up and cuddle him — and he wanted me to, needed me to when I picked him up at school — and I could freely give and receive the love that somehow never quite got expressed with my dad. Not that the love wasn’t there — I don’t doubt it — it’s just that that energy was never spent. It withered on the vine. (There are many, many reasons for this. Hard to explain, hard to quantify in a few lines. I don’t blame my dad — I think he did the best he could. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t need more from him. Said with love.)
Is it the circle of life? It kind of feels that way. When Benjamin has that little jacket on, it feels a bit like the man that I looked up to and wanted to notice me has come back, only now he’s looking up at me and begging me to pick him up, look him in the eye and pay attention. And so I will.
A note to daddies: Tell your daughters you love them. Tell them that they’re beautiful and smart and important. Stop everything else sometimes and look them in the eye and listen to them without offering advice or trying to “fix” anything — girls just need to be listened to. Hug them, kiss them, even when they’re older. Tell them how much they mean to you — speak the words. Leave no doubt. Always, always remember that you are teaching them how a man should treat them.
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I hope that all the Dads reading this heed your advice. But don’t just confine it to daughters. Sons need to hear these things, too.