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There really is something about hearing your father tell you he loves you

I’ve never had a close relationship with my father and up until a year or so ago I decided that didn’t really matter much. Sure, it could have been beneficial to have parental guidance from an additional perspective, but given my personality and that of my father I was doubtful we would’ve had the type of relationship where he’d refer to me as his little princess and I’d worship him as the most important man in my life. Given those facts, I decided pretty early on I hadn’t really missed out on much throughout my single-parent upbringing, and at around 22 years old I further decided I was too old to reap any benefits of having a father anyway, so when it came to our lack of a relationship, my resolve was simple: it is what it is.

But as the single years rolled by I started catching myself in low moments saying things like, “no man has ever loved me” and thinking back on the fact that my stepdad never told me the so-called standard dad things like, “you’re beautiful” and “so-and-so isn’t good enough for you.” As a result, I started to question whether I’d not only have better self-esteem if I had a man around in my formative years to reaffirm my positive attributes, but better success with men in romantic relationships if I’d received the love I’m still looking for in many ways as a child.

Those thoughts left me questioning whether I should attempt to reconcile with my father whom three years ago I told I would never speak to again until he acknowledged that, in many ways, he failed me as a parent. But my stubborn nature stopped me from doing so until tragic forces beyond either one of us pulled us together.

It was a random Friday morning when I received a call from my dad informing me of a family emergency. Despite the emotional nature of the circumstances, the tone of our conversation was like that of two strangers, because in many ways that’s what we are. And yet when my dad asked me whether I thought I’d be able to come back home because of what was going on, I didn’t hesitate to look up flights. This was the opportunity I’d been contemplating. The chance to connect with my dad that wasn’t as bold as me coming outright and saying, I think I need you in my life, but a way to be in his presence and see if he even cared to reconnect and try to establish a relationship.

Our initial meeting was robotic at best. In fact, we didn’t even hug when we first saw each other. But as I observed how he interacted with me – or not – the similarities in our personalities became more apparent. I caught the careful way my dad mentioned certain things he’d only know about me had he been asking other family members about my life and I realized we both operate under the guise of not showing too much affection for someone until we know for sure they won’t reject us. Of course, you’d want your father to extend an olive branch – or more – anyway, but at 30- and 50-plus, without any father-daughter foundation, our interaction was very much like two random adults who know they should connect on a deeper level but hesitated because we weren’t sure if that’s what the other wanted.

But then out of the blue my father did extend an olive branch. After essentially spending three days together getting family affairs in order we hugged goodbye and my dad held on to me for an extended period of time and said words I can’t deny wanting to hear for years. When we finally pulled away he said, “I love you. I want you to know that. And I want you to feel that. Being around you, I can see we’re a lot alike in how we act and how we handle things and that’s probably why we bump heads. But I want you to know that you can love somebody. And you can love somebody that you think you don’t even like – unless you really really hate them.”

Had my dad not cracked that joke at the end about someone you hate I probably would’ve collapsed on the pavement outside my mom’s house in tears. Somehow, without me saying a word my dad knew exactly what I needed to hear and he said it all to me when I needed to hear it most. The night before, I was literally on the phone with my best friend telling her how awkward my interactions with my dad had been and saying I didn’t know whether he loved me or not and saying flat-out that I didn’t think I loved him either because I didn’t really know him or particularly like him. But, I also couldn’t deny that as I watched him maneuver and step into action for the family, I felt love for him because watching him was like watching myself. There wasn’t a thing my dad did that I couldn’t see myself doing as well and if I didn’t love him and appreciate him in those moments, I probably couldn’t really love myself either.

There was another layer to him saying I can love someone generally as well because it’s been a long time since I’ve even had an opportunity to do that. The older I get and the less love I feel in my personal life, the more I question whether I’m even capable of loving someone else, let alone having them love me in return. His sixth sense clearly picked up on that as he’d randomly blurt out how beautiful I was in the middle of conversations and when I’d shyly thank him for the compliment, he’d ask me if I knew that I was beautiful with a seriousness that suggested he knew I really didn’t and it was high time I did.

In the weeks following our reunion, my dad and I have stayed in touch. Interestingly, he’s set himself out on some mission of finding a husband for me. And as much as I want to be annoyed at the reminder of my singleness, all I can do is laugh at the fact that in a matter of days I’ve found myself in a standard father-daughter relationship with a dad who’s on a mission to make sure his daughter finds someone to take care of her – in this situation better than he ever did.

When I cut my dad off a few years ago, I did so over a specific incident but the underlying issue was that I never really got the sense that he cared whether he was in my life or not. And after years of coming across men who seemed to have similar philosophies in regard to me, I started to feel like me and men just didn’t go together in any capacity. But hearing my father say he loved me and making it a priority for me to know that and feel that gave me a sense of self-worth I haven’t felt in a long time, if ever. In rejecting him and how he did things, I rejected myself in a lot of ways. Now that I’ve been able to appreciate him in a new way, I also have a newfound appreciation for who I am as a woman and hope that one day I’ll find a partner who’ll love and appreciate that as well.

Photo Credits: Getty Images

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  • [email protected]

    This is certainly a very honest story. It’s a great story. Many people wouldn’t show their family business in public like that. Her story is commonly expressed by so many in the globe. Many people have trouble reconciling with their fathers. As for me, I have a great relationship with my father. I’m glad that the Sister has learned lessons, communicated with her father, and is moving forward with her life. Each person’s experiences will be different and we can only live the journey, do what is right, stand up for truth, and follow the concept of love. Fathers and Mothers who are doing what is right should always be praised.

  • Mae

    Wow. This article really spoke to me. I had a similar relationship with my father, where being present in each other’s lives seemed to be a non-priority for us both. During my coming of age years, my mother raised my twin brother and I with minimal support from my father. As a kid (and honestly, to this day), I felt that he only came around or contributed to our lives when he got tired of my mother asking him to. My brother would be so disappointed when he’d promise to show up and didn’t; I on the other hand was indifferent to his presence. The only time I remember him expressing a sincere love for me was at the age of 19 when my then boyfriend and I visited him in the hospital. He had suffered from lung cancer for at least a decade, and it was evident at this moment that he was in his final days. He looked my boyfriend in the eye and uttered “take care of my baby girl”. Although I felt the love at that moment, a part of me was annoyed since not only did he address the boy instead of me, I felt as though he didn’t play his part in taking care of me. My father passed a few days after that encounter, and that boyfriend was the last serious relationship I had. We ended things a (platonically, nonetheless) a few years later.

    I’m now 33 and very much open to love, but it seems to not exist in my realm. However, as time goes on, the more I question “why am I repelling love?”

  • Love.tweet.joi

    What a great piece. While this isn’t an experience I can relate to, it touches on some of the emotions that I am feeling right now. My entire life I had a great relationship with my narcissistic father despite him being verbally abusive in his dealings with everyone including my mother. Now that my parents have been divorced two years, we don’t speak anymore. I was used to being verbally abused. I was used to my mother being verbally abused. However, when he verbally abused my five year old, all of it stopped being okay. Problem is, I don’t know how to keep people at arms length. When I’m done with you, I cut you off completely out of fear that if I don’t, you will find your way back into my inner circle. Unfortunately, my dad is now on the outside of my circle. I’m furious at him for being who he always was. I might even be furious at him for the parts of him that I see in myself.

  • Queen Ekuba

    Awesome, honest article. But having a fab dad doesn’t necessarily mean that one won’t have self esteem issues around men or relationships. I should know. I had the world’s most awesome dad who told me and showed me how much he loved me everyday (he’s now passed on) but I’ve had to work on my self esteem so far as relationships are concerned.

  • BillipPhailey

    I will never understand men who don’t cultivate a relationship with a part of themselves. My dad was strict when I was a kid, but eased up as I became an adult. I couldn’t imagine him being indifferent to us.