They say a girl is forever looking for the love her father.
They say a girls first true love is her father.
And, they say, when a girl finally marries the love of her life, that man will be the image of her father.
I’ve had a lot of men in my life.
Boyfriends who have come and gone. My mothers boyfriends, who also came and went. My biological father, who I wanted love from, but never received it. And because of the damage he did to me, I searched for a long time, cliche as it may be, looking for that love in all the wrong places. I got into relationships that were destructive. I was the victim, no, survivor, of a relationship where I was beaten almost daily, into submission. A relationship that broke me, literally and emotionally. Broken bones. Broken heart. I wanted so badly to be loved unconditionally by a man, any man, be it the one who brought me into this world, or some divine replacement for him. I wanted to marry a man who would take care of me. Not the woman I am, but the little girl who never received the love she needed. I wanted both of these men, the father and the husband, to cherish me. To fulfill me. To complete me. There was this giant hole in my heart, in my soul…in my little girl world, that desperately needed to heal. It bled, continuously.
After my biological father left my mother, when I was a mere 7 years old, she dated often. It was within her right to do so. She was single, dealing with her own pain, needing to be loved and valued as well. My biological father was a horrible man. He was cruel, selfish, self centered. He hurt my mother in so many ways, they are far too numerous to mention. The men she brought home, they were never right for her. They were distractions, temporary band aids on bullet wounds. Something to dull the ache of being rejected by the man who was her high school sweetheart. The man who promised he would love her forever.
He lied. Oh, how he lied.
By the time my mother brought home the man who is now my stepfather, I was an angry 11 year old. I didn’t want any more of these men around her, around us…this tiny unit of a family who only consisted of my mother, my brother and myself. I was over her repeated heartbreak. I was over meeting every random fool who promised her the moon and instead, gave her faded stars. When my stepfather came into the picture, I remember thinking, “Great. Another one.” He will stay for a little while. Pretend to care about my brother and I long enough to be able to sleep with her. Then, like the rest, he will be gone. I put up a wall that would rival The Great Wall, never letting any of them in. Never letting them close enough to me to hurt me. And, I also grew a deep resentment for my mother, for continuing to bring these people into our lives, allowing my brother and I to feel this false sense of security, only to be let down again.
But this man, the man you see on the right in this photo…he was, well, different. He didn’t overcompensate with gifts and toys for my brother and I. All he wanted to do was love my mother and in time, perhaps love us as well. If we would let him. He saw us not as a burden, but part of the package my mother came with. He included us on his dates with her. Picnics, movies, weekend trips to Lake George. He just wanted to be with my mother and he knew that in doing so, he would have to learn to want to be with two very broken little children as well.
As years went by, this man earned my trust. He didn’t play games with my mothers heart, nor with mine. He was truthful, forthright and upstanding. He knew that we were all, collectively, damaged works of art and he took his time restoring the three of us. Skillfully, he dabbled with the colors on the pallet to recolor our world. Slowly, the picture came to life once more and now, we were a family. This man made me understand what it was like to have a fathers love once more. Eventually, I discovered that he too, was in pain, suffering his own loss. He had a daughter who rejected him. Her mother had poisoned her against him during a very ugly divorce of his own. So, while I was desperately seeking a fathers love, he was desperately seeking the love of a daughter. He filled my fatherless void. I fulfilled the role of his estranged daughter. It took time, it took energy and it took work, but eventually…I gave him the greatest gift that any stepchild can offer their new parent. I started calling him, “Dad”. Tentatively at first, but then, it became natural, rolling off my tongue as freely as any little girl would call the first man in her life “Daddy”.
This man put braces on my crooked teeth. He put my first prom gown on my back. He was there to hold me the first time I got stood up on a date. “His loss,” he said. And I cried, allowing him to cradle me in his arms, perhaps feeling for the first time that I was not rejected but it was, in fact, this boys loss. He taught me to drive a car. Was there for my dance recitals, piano recitals, talent shows. He bought me roses and would proudly boast, “that’s my daughter.” He made me feel special, loved and when the wounds would surface from my biological fathers rejection of me, the same words, “his loss”, would always be the words that would bring me the most comfort…especially once he started adding “his loss is my gain” to the phrase.
When my biological father was killed in a car accident in 1986, it was my stepfather who came to my job, took my hands in his and broke the news to me. I fainted. I fainted into the arms of the man who rescued me, while grieving the death of a man whose DNA was in my body, but I felt no connection to other than the obligatory connection of knowing that this is the person responsible for giving me life.
But, in some other way, I felt free. I felt free to fully love my stepfather now. There was no more guilt attached to my calling him “Dad” now. I always felt it was wrong in some way to call my stepfather “Daddy” when I had a father. Yet, the relationship that I had with my stepfather made me realize that any man can become a father. It is a man who is worthy who gets to be called “Daddy”.
My stepfather. My father. He is beyond worthy…and I love him beyond all reason.
I made a lot of mistakes as I grew older. Now, I was not searching for the love of a father any longer, but rather, searching for a man like my father to take on the role of my husband, my life partner. And, I did a lot of settling during that time, because there was no man who could possibly measure up to the greatness of my father. Certainly I came close a few times, but there was always something missing. Something lacking. I wanted a man like my father. My father would bring my mother flowers for no reason. He would greet her with big, warm hugs at the door when he came home. He would refer to her as “his princess” and even in her fifties, she would still smile this shy, adoring smile and a slight blush would color her cheeks. I wanted that. I ached for that. Two marriages and several broken engagements later…I still never found it.
Enter the man on the left in that photograph.
My life was in a shambles. I was in the middle of a very messy separation with husband number two. My daughter was 12 years old and my son, just barely 4 years of age. I had met my now husband at school. He was a quiet man, reserved, didn’t talk much but when he did, it was always something either poignant, clever or sweet. I noticed he held open doors for women, let someone with an armful of groceries go before him online if he only had an item or two. He was complimentary of people. A gracious man who everyone seemed to really like. One evening, at a school function, my daughter met this man. I often brought her up to my college functions with me to show her how fun college can be. I wanted her to get a taste of the college experience so she would be more determined to go. After she met him, she sidled up to me and said, “Mom, you should marry him. He’s really cool. I like him.” I remember laughing out loud. “Sam, I barely know him. We are just friends.” She cocked her head to the side, raised a brow at me and said, “I like him. He’s not like the other jerks you date.”
And all of a sudden, it dawned on me. She was seeing me the way I saw my mother when I was 11 years old. While I was far more careful than my mother was not to bring around my boyfriends near my children, there was one man in particular that I was dating that my daughter really, really did not like. She actually hated him enough to forewarn me that if I intended on marrying him, she would move away from me. I have to admit, that made a huge impact on me. At another school function, my soon to be ex husband was in attendance with my children. I was the President of the Honor Society at school and we were inducting the newest members, of which this man my daughter was so fond of was to be inducted as well. As each person was handed their certificate, one by one, I gave each new inductee a warm hug and welcomed them into the group. When this man came up for his certificate, I remember feeling such a nervousness come over me. I didn’t want any one to notice or realize that I was attracted to him on some level. So, instead of that warm embrace, I merely gave him a handshake. That gesture was as transparent as glass to my soon to be ex husband who said, “that kid whose hand you just shook? Yeah. He’s going to be your next husband.” I remember laughing nervously. “Whaaaaat? What kind of crazy thing is that to say?”
We were married two years later.
In this man, I found my father. After 12 years together, he escorts me to the car, linking my arm onto his so that I don’t fall. He opens the car door for me. He says, “Careful, honey,” every time I get into the car just before closing the door just to make sure he doesn’t shut the door on me or that my dress does not get caught outside the door. He walks around to the other side of the car when we reach our destination and escorts me out. If he knows he has to park far from our venue, he will always drop me off first and then, proceed to park the car. He brings me home flowers for no reason whatsoever. If he knows he is going to be gone all day, he will go out and buy me breakfast and leave it in the microwave for me to warm up when I finally wake up. He kisses me every time he leaves the room, whether it is to go to the bathroom or to walk down the hall to his office when he is working at home. He calls me his princess, his queen, his baby girl and a million other names of adoration and affection. And when I look at him looking at me, I see my father staring at my mother. I see the insurmountable love in his eyes. I see him smile at me sometimes, not being able to help himself…because he is just that much in love. He calls me his best friend, the same way my father says to me, “your mother is my best friend in the whole world. Without her, life just doesn’t work.”
Those two men in that photo. They are the loves of my life. The men in my life. They both filled a desperate void in my world. I love both of them so much that I can cry just thinking about it. They both saved me, in different ways, from the feelings of rejection that my biological father left behind when he left us. These two men, so much alike. Quiet. They are listeners. They don’t have much to say, but when they do, it is meaningful. It is from the heart. It isn’t frivolous or just talk to hear themselves talk. They are both creatures of habit who work hard for the women they love. And like my father, my husband embraced my two children, not out of obligation, but out of love. When my children talk about him, they refer to him as their dad, despite their father being in their life. My son refers to him as “my steppy”, his affectionate name for his step dad and my daughter as a pet name for him that warms my heart every time I hear her say it or see it written in a card. My son calls my husband his best friend and to me, that is the most joyous thing in the world. My daughters children, our grandchildren, race up to him with arms wide open screaming “Gampa Gampa Gampa” and will just tug at his legs til he picks them up, tosses them in the air and gives them great big hugs and kisses that make them burst out into hysterical giggling fits. And my daughter, she loves with and adores him as she has from the moment she was a little girl telling me, “you should marry him, Mom.”
She was right. And I am glad I listened.
My husband. My father. They both love me so much. I am very blessed for having them. They both claim they are very blessed to have me. To know that someone thinks that much of you that they consider you a blessing in their lives? No other feeling compares.
I know sometimes my father wonders where his biological daughter is, how she is doing, what is going on her world. He has reached out to her countless times and every time, she rejects him.
I take his hand. I smile at him. I kiss his cheek and say to him, “her loss is my gain.”
I know some day that I am going to lose my dad. It’s inevitable. Time slowly steals our parents from us. But, I also know that whenever I look into my husbands eyes, I will see the kindness, the love, the adoration and the mutual respect I always see in my dads eyes when he looks at me. I feel sometimes that perhaps my husband was this special gift given to me in the world so that I will never have to know the pain of being without my father ever again.
These are the men in my life.
If fate is on your side, sometimes you are blessed enough to get one or the other.
I am fortunate enough to have both.
I am a lucky girl, indeed.