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Relationships
06/12/13

A Father’s Love: The Uncomfortable Truth

fathers-day

I learned pretty early on that my Dad believed that if he didn’t make me wish I had the power to evaporate at least once a week, this meant his fathering skills needed some sprucing up. My dad thought that “tough love”—roughly translated—meant “let ‘em squirm,” and boy was he an expert. My Dad is still an expert at tough love, but now that I’m all grown up I can finally appreciate it.

It doesn’t take much to make a teenager feel uncomfortable. But my Dad, who raised eight of them, made no attempts at delicacy towards our tender teenaged sensitivities—in fact—most of the time it seemed like he went out of his way to make us writhe.

The “tough love” was administered most every morning. Bleary eyed and hormonal, I would make my way to the kitchen hoping only to retrieve my cereal and avoid interaction with the world. Not a chance. My Dad was already standing at the bottom of the stairs or else had left whatever chore he was doing, arms outstretched to pull me into a bear hug. Hormonal teenage personal bubble—popped. No angsty or grouchy teenaged child was spared.

Then there was my Dad’s return from work at the end of the day. Our stubborn front door would bang open, with the front screen snapping behind him. My Dad would hang his coat in the front hall closet and place his briefcase in the corner of our living room. Then he would march into the kitchen with his huge playful grin, dip my mother, and kiss her. I can still hear the groans issued from the poor souls who had been caught unawares, those who had not made it out of the kitchen in time.

Worse still, my Dad regularly ignored my insecurities about my appearance—and discomfort with direct eye contact for that matter— and told me how beautiful I was. I would blush, mumble something about bias, and swiftly dart from the room.

But all these were mild discomforts compared to the intense, skin crawling experience of learning that it was time for the “sex talk.” My Mom, my Dad, and me—all alone at the end of our dining room table. Why couldn’t it just be my mom, woman to woman—hadn’t my Dad had enough? Wasn’t he just as eager to escape this conversation? He could easily have found an excuse to skip this chat, but that was not my Dad’s way. Why? Because sometimes love means you need to make someone squirm. He taught me that.

Turns out my Dad did his homework. Research indicates that the quality of a woman’s relationship with her father can have an even greater impact on some areas of her life than her relationship with her mother.

Linda Nielsen—a professor and author who has written and researched about father-daughter relationships for more than 40 years—has reported that a woman’s father greatly impacts her social, sexual, and romantic relationships with men. Nielsen claims that women look to their fathers to feel lovable, for a sense of self worth. That is an incredible responsibility that requires talking to your daughter about these things, as well as setting an example—no matter how uncomfortable.

The truth is, it wasn’t long before my Dad’s bear hugs became an important assurance that this day—no matter how crummy—would turn out okay. Soon, the way my Dad swooped my mother off her feet, made me wish that one day a man would do the same to me.  And—while I never enjoyed it at the time—I began to have the clarity to look back on that sex talk and other unsolicited relationship talks—which in my mind were either taboo or reserved for girls only— and see that my Dad did it because he loved me. My Dad was not going to let a little thing like discomfort stand between me and happiness, between me and love.

Photo by Andrea Rose

Monica Gabriel - Monica is the Relationship Editor for Verily Magazine and Co-Host of Catching up with Kara and Monica on SiriusXM Radio. Monica surveys cultural trends and shares her thoughts on relationships and womanhood. Follow on twitter @MonicaAGabriel

Comments

  1. Such a lovely post, Monica! This made me tear up. Thank you for sharing :)

  2. maureen says:

    This makes me really miss my dad. He didn’t embarrass me, or make me writhe, but was always there for me.

  3. SO cute. My dad and I are on the mend these days, but I grew up opposite. I’m determined to make sure my future kids see some of these wonderful things. Shared this article with my other half :)

  4. Angelica says:

    Wow, this is amazing! I simply would never have considered this kind of father-daughter communication to be so beneficial, but now that I’ve read this, it’s so clear. I’m going to save this article and read it in future years when I’ve got teenagers of my own!

  5. Michelle says:

    Thank you for that beautiful article! Belated Happy Father’s Day to your dad – tell him thanks from all the strangers he’s influenced well! :)

  6. Monica, this was touching. It’s so nice to hear about dads who go above and beyond their duties as a father and the daughters who learn that’s what relationships are all about!

  7. Thank you for this beautiful article! The qualities your father has are those I am seeking in a spouse! We need more fathers who are willing to make their daughters uncomfortable and squeamish out of profound love!

  8. My dad passed away when I was pretty little, but my step-dad arrived just as I entered my teens. Quite frankly, it was in the nick of time! I’m super lucky, and I know I’m a stronger, more confident woman as a result of him being around :)
    (Even before he married my mom, my sister and I both said we wanted to marry a guy like him, and now that he’s been a father to me, I stand by it!)

  9. Erin says:

    When I read this title and the first lines, I thought the article was going to be for girls who’ve had difficult relationships with their fathers. My dad was never really home growing up and he regularly threw things at me, tore up my toys and said hurtful things like “if we put you up for adoption no one would take you because you’re a lazy piece of shit.” I hid from him when he came home not because I was embarassed and hormonal but because I was afraid. As a result I can assure you I have really struggled with having a sense of self-worth and I can attest to the fact that Nielson’s conclusions cannot be more true. I wish I had a father like yours. I wish you could have appreciated at the time how nice that was because I can assure you there are those of us who wanted to evaporate for very different reasons and for whom “tough love” is a label we use when searching for catharsis.

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