I don’t know a daughter who has a perfect relationship with her dad.
But I don’t know any perfect people either.
What I do know, is that we grow up through our ponytails, and skinned knees, prom dresses and first driving experiences the daughters of our fathers.
Fearing them, or their lack of approval, or loving every evening leaning into those broad shoulders and safe spaces encircled by the arms of a dad.
The thing is, dads, it’s not the to do lists that we remember it’s the memories of what you said late one Sunday afternoon on the front porch steps while the boys were scootering up and down the side walk.
It’s not the five-point manifestos that make a dad, it’s the memories of every Monday and Tuesday and ordinary boring Thursday that mark us your daughters.
You might be surprised what we remember. Less likely the Disneyland moments and more often the conversations that happened over a cup of tea or a pretend beauty parlor session.
The year after my mother died I couldn’t sleep. I would dread bedtime, dragging feet toward the inevitable. Empty hours stretched ahead of me and I couldn’t see my way toward the sunrise; the night was dark and dense and filled with loneliness.
I hated to be the only person awake in the house.
I remember sitting by my dad’s bedside and talking with him into the wee hours. Just rambling on and on about anything and nothing, but always punctuated by the regular question, “Dad, you’re still awake, right?”
And his heavy eyes would crack open in my direction and he’d sigh an exhausted “yes” and I’d keep on talking.
He and I have traveled miles since then.
They have not always been smooth.
They have been bumpy and hard with deep ruts and deeper misunderstandings over the years.
Physical distance can both complicate and help the healing and for years I lived an ocean away.
But I can close my eyes and smell his cologne waiting there at the end of every finish line of every race I ever ran in school.
I can hear in my head all the fights we had, all the nights I felt misunderstood, and all the moments I wish we could take back.
But I can also taste cup after cup of hot sweet Rooibos Tea that he brought me in the morning after morning.
As well as the sweet bite of the sherry he poured me that night I came back inside after my first kiss.
He never said a word, just passed the cut glass crystal and smiled slow as we sat in the fading light together. My mom a million miles away in hospital and her daughter growing up into a woman on the sofa with the ripped brown pillows over a silent toast with her father.
The memories of what we did do together will always trump the lost ones of what we didn’t.
I remember my dad sneaking me into the crook of his arm to watch a few minutes of late television after he got home hours past my bedtime.
I can hear his long, slow, flattering wolf whistle as my 18 year old self stepped out in an insecure prom dress. And how nothing I accomplished ever surprised him.
The fights we had our overshadowed by the delight I know he took in me.
He said things I wish he could unsay. He said things I’m sure he wishes he could unsay. But parenting is not a full stop. it is a conversation.
It’s the long way home.
So we keep talking and wallpapering over old hurts with new understanding.
How I explained to him that sometimes a daughter doesn’t need to be fixed, she just needs to be listened to.
And he listened.
Oh how I remember that he listened.
You won’t get it right all the time, dad. And we daughters, we sure know how to complicate things too. But we will see ourselves through your eyes – beautiful, or incompetent, brave or ordinary, wildly wonderful or misunderstood.
We will wear your approval layered over everything else, even that outfit that raises eyebrows. And the more we remember how much you love us, the less likely we are to wear it again.
I’ve done stupid things and still you’ve only been a phone call away. No matter which side of the Atlantic I’m living at the time.
I remember your voice crackly over the long distance call – you in the distant far veld of South Africa, me in the labor and delivery ward in Virginia. I remember how I couldn’t bear down and give birth to my daughter until I’d heard the voice of my father. Me his first daughter.
I remember how you make me brave.
How we make each other better.
This being someone’s daughter. And someone’s father.
And how brightly it’s reflected in the setting sun on the front stoop as my three year old girl looks her daddy straight in the eye.
And no matter how bumpy their ride, I know, “Baby, you got this.”
Because your daddy’s got you.
Click here for the staggeringly moving Father’s Day video – You Got This – by Journey Box Media (the same guys who made my book trailer) – for every one of the dads out there who helped their kids learn the long, patient, every day, boring way that they’ve got this. Five Star View.
My all-time, hands down favorite read about fathers and daughters? This one by Meg Meeker, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know