The year is 2001 and I’m about 6 years old. We’re eating dinner as a family, I am chowing down, my little sister has set up all her plastic animals around her plate, and my dad turns to me –
‘What?’ I say through a mouthful of food
‘I love you’ my dad replies.
I scowl at him, but he just looks at me with a smug smile because he had just won the game.
The game was simple. The object of the game was to say I love you first. If I had been on the ball that day – as soon as he said my name I would’ve said ‘I love you’ and then I would’ve won.
This might be the simplest game on the entire planet, but I’m only beginning to realize now how important it was that I played this game with my dad specifically, from before I can even remember.
See, the thing is, the older I get, the more people I meet, the more families I hear about – and unfortunately, the more examples of terrible fatherhood I am exposed to.
Don’t get me wrong – mothers can mess it up too – but fatherhood seems to be more commonly treated as optional. Must be the whole ‘didn’t-actually-grow-the-baby-inside-you’ thing but every time I hear one of these stories – I’m almost reduced to tears out of gratitude for my own father.
That game we used to play is a perfect example of why I appreciate him so much. My dad has never really been shy about sharing his feelings or opinions. When I was younger, this manifested itself into numerous fights since apparently, we are of exactly the same temperament, but as I grow into early adulthood I’ve realized just how influential his expression of emotions has been for me.
He was never shy about telling me he loved me, that he supported me, or even that he was frustrated with me. And he didn’t just tell me – he would show it too. He picked me and my sister up from school almost every day when we were little. He would set boundaries for me when I was out of line. He made full-on sausage McMuffin sandwiches from scratch for my whole varsity swim team when it was my turn to bring breakfast in the morning. He’s the reason I have such an insatiable travel bug. But maybe most importantly – he always believed in my ability to do absolutely whatever I said I wanted to do and has always been there for me when things didn’t work out.
Somewhere around age nineteen, my dad even became the person I would go to for advice on guys/relationships. I can call him for everything from a mid-crying jag breakdown over something silly all the way to how exactly I should break up with a guy I’m just not feeling it with. He is a man, after all, I honestly don’t even know why it took me until age nineteen to start listening to his perspective – he hasn’t really been wrong yet.
But it’s not just guys – he’s really there for me no matter what. I have many an existential crisis and he’s always willing to sit with me and help me through it. Toxic masculinity who?
Maybe it’s a European thing. Maybe it’s just my dad’s brand of being a dad. His birthday is coming up this Friday and even though he’s in Greece per usual this time of year – I still wanted to go ahead and type this out because I’m so so grateful for him. You don’t get to choose your parents, and sometimes that can turn out less than ideal, but with every single passing day – I’m so thankful I ended up with mine.