Friday, July 24, 2015

Not Just a Pretty Face

“A Dad is a daughter’s first love.”  ~Unknown

“Mom, did dad ever call you beautiful?”
“Yes, yes he did.  He told you the same thing too.”
“No.” (As I slam my hand on the table) “NO HE DIDN’T, HE NEVER DID!”...(pause)… “He told me in moments he was proud of me, and that he loved me, but in terms of complementing how I looked, the most I’d get was, ‘you look nice.’”  This was a dinner table conversation I had with my mother just a couple of weeks ago. 

It isn’t any great mystery that the relationship a daughter has with her father will profoundly affect her throughout her childhood and lifetime.  People joke tongue and cheek about girls who have “daddy issues.”  But the reality is there is a deep and lasting residue a father’s influence (or lack thereof) leaves in the deep recesses of a woman’s heart.  It’s a residue that can and will dictate her confidence; her self-worth; her sense of femininity and sensuality; and her love life.  This reality has been no different for me and the relationship I had with my father.

For reasons I didn’t fully understand growing up, my father wasn’t emotionally available to me, nor was he all that affectionate in word or deed.  This disconnect manifested itself in an array of ways.  Despite the lack of fatherly affection I ached for, he did do plenty to show he loved me.  He walked me to the school bus stop every morning during grade school, and drove me to zero period during middle school and high school.  He told me he loved me. He imparted the importance of good study skills growing up.  He talked to me about financial planning.  He told me in some moments how proud he was of me.  I do know that he indeed loved and loves me – truly I know. Yet when it came down to emotions, my dad, well, was emotionally constipated.  I ached for him to call me his precious princess (more or less) – he didn’t.  I longed for him to tell me how I should expect boys and men to treat me – it didn’t happen.  I wished he showed more interest in my school girl crushes and dating life – you guessed it, he didn’t.  But out of all the fatherly affection I craved, most of all I ached for him to tell me how beautiful I was.  It…did…not…happen.  Ever!

Growing up with an emotionally unavailable dad (and for other reasons – for a different blog) it caused me to be incredibly shy and not outspoken.  Those of you who know me now, might say, “No way,” to which I’d say, “WAY!”  Ask any of my family members, ask anyone who went to grade school all the way to high school with me – they can attest to my wall flower former self.  It caused me to be extremely cautious and sensitive; to a fault really.  Imagine, if you will a chubby girl who wore oversized clothes paired with a baggy hoody, and a pony tail – on the daily.  Yup, that was me!  Don’t talk to me about dating in high school – I was totally ill equipped.  To be honest, I didn’t even know how to explore and embrace my femininity, much less my sensuality.  It felt awkward and unnatural to me.  Truth be told, I was almost ashamed to do so – like I wasn’t worthy enough to explore that side of myself.  Sounds depressing I know – it gets better, I promise.
Maybe being a fish out of water in Rome for a semester helped push me out of my comfort zone; perhaps living in the hilly streets of San Francisco for three years aided in this process; or perchance my two years living across the country in Philadelphia helped push me out of my wallflower former self.  Or just maybe all of the above helped.  Well, it wasn’t until mid-way through college I really began to explore myself, my femininity, and so on.  Matter of fact, I can recall actually confronting my father on the day I graduated from college, regarding his emotional absence, and how it affected me growing up.  We sat in my living room that overlooked the Sunset District in San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean, following my commencement.  He expressed his limitations in this realm from a traumatizing childhood of his own, and his vow to not inflict the pain on me (and my siblings) that he suffered from his own parents. His means to his end was to disconnect emotionally.  Touching: yes.  Insightful: indeed.  Clarity: certainly.  Yet, even though I now understood why he withheld emotional affection from me, it did not make my desire for the very thing any less. 

Before my father passed away, and even now, I have come to a point of serenity that he never called me beautiful – even till his dying day.  It’s been an internal battle that I’ve had to address, and resolve with, and to be able to say to myself, and believe myself, when I say to myself, that I am in fact beautiful – and not just because I hear those words from others, but because I truly know it.  This great ache and scar I’ve had has been a stumbling block I’ve addressed in both direction and therapy.  It has lead me outside of myself; it has led me to value myself; it has led me to be confident; and it has led me to feel comfortable and dare I say confidant in my beauty – my distinct beauty – it has led me to feel, not only comfortable in my own skin, but even the real need to explore my own individual femininity and sensuality.  And while the distance away from family for five years gave me time and space to grow into my own, and direction and therapy has given me tools to address and overcome these “daddy issues,” it still proves to be a profound scar in those deep recesses of my heart; something that gets easier yes, but always present. 
Case in point, that conversation I had with my mother just a short two weeks ago.  Feeling sufficiently emotionally zonked after this long and drawn out conversation I crashed as soon as I got home that night.  And that very night, I dreamt of my dad…

I don’t remember a whole lot from the dream, but what I do remember was being at the school, working, and for some reason I knew my father was picking me up.  If memory serves me right (which is always sketchy recalling memories from a dream) I even spoke to my dad on the phone in the dream.  But what stuck out to me the most was when I saw my father in the dream.  I was in the parking lot of the school, he was walking towards me – with the biggest smile on his face – and I ran to him!  Upon contact, I jumped into his paternal arms, legs wrapped around his waist, arms around his shoulders, and my head nestled in the small of his neck.  And he held me and embraced me for a good long while, again in the middle of the parking lot of my work, and for the first time, I felt beautiful in the eyes of my father! And the interesting thing is, he never actually said it in the dream, but somehow, I felt it was his way of conveying it to me.  He always was a man of few words; and more actions. In the dream he showed me that I was beautiful.

Some might say, it was just on my mind, and so I dreamt of him.  Well, let me say, there have been PLENTY of times my father has been on my mind before I drift off to dreamland, but the amount of times it’s manifested itself in a dream, I can still count on one hand – with extra fingers to spare.  Call me superstitious, but I truly believe my father came to convey something to me that night, something – perhaps – he finally understands my need of, and something – perhaps – he’s not limited by any longer.  He’s truly free from earthly and human conditions and limitations – just a thought. 
The morning following this prophetic dream my thoughts were in a whirl!  It got me thinking about all the other parts of my womanhood and my femininity, and how consequently my father views me, but just as importantly, how I view myself.  In the words of an iconic female country singer Shania Twain, “she’s not just a pretty face; she’s got everything it takes.”  I got me to thinking…

I’m a sister, a daughter and granddaughter; I’m a friend, a mentor and teacher; I’m a world traveler, college graduate; and incoming graduate student; I’m a two time marathon runner, a crazed fitness fanatic, but also a closet fat kid who still loves carbs, cheese and chocolate; I’m a writer (obviously), a photographer, a beader who loves to make jewelry and an artist at heart; I’m a compassionate lover, a fierce listener, and am humorously sarcastic; I can be a shy and clumsy first kisser, but a passionate and sensual second, third and fourth kisser (no details disclosed, sorry not sorry); and at times when provoked I can be a bitch (only when warranted of course); I am a God believer, a Jesus lover, and a practicing Catholic; I love me some great discussions on politics and social issues; I love most kinds of music, and when the time is right I love to dance the night away; I am beautiful, yes, but I am not just a pretty face, I am so much more – I have everything it takes!  Perhaps, and just maybe that is something my father has and did convey to me; that I’m not just a pretty face; to him, I mean so much more.  How indispensable!

When I think – really think and recall – moments with my father, I do know he loved me very deeply.  At times it came out in restrictive ways.  Like when my siblings and I were at the beach with extended family, and he’d bellow for my sister and me to come closer to shore – mind you we were barely knee deep in water.  Or during a trip to the Grand Canyon, and as curious kids do, my siblings and I were leaning over the railing to get a good look at this tremendous hole in the ground, my father was there to burst our bubble and pull us close to safety.  In retrospect: protective and loving; at the moment: a buzz kill.  There were times as well that my father was playful, and I do look on those moments fondly, and think had his childhood been different, might those playful and caring moments been more than just few and far between; likely so I’m sure.  Most of all, I do greatly cherish the last year of his life.  It was in that year, my father and I were able to have the most heart to heart conversations.  It was in that year he and I had the best father/daughter relationship – but now as adults.  It was in that year we took trips together with the rest of the family.  It was in that year he shared more with me of his life; his proud moments, and his demons.  It was in that year he expressed his desire for me to marry and have a family of my own; and his great pain for knowing he wouldn’t be able to be there to give me away on my wedding day.  But over it all, and above it all I treasure how much he expressed how proud he was of me – for going to and finishing college (and being the first of his children to do so), for the amount of traveling I’ve done (and how that made him think I took after him and all his traveling).  In the last months of his life, there was a simple and profound sense of pride he expressed for the adult (the woman) I had grown into – brains, wit, (and now post prophetic dream later) beauty!  You see, he had always expressed how proud he was of me, and now, finally, (post prophetic dream later) I felt beautiful in my father’s eyes.  Combined, this feeling, this gift, my dad gave me (even if it was a bit delayed) is freeing, liberating, and has so much power.  At long last, that missing puzzle piece in my relationship with my father was finally filled, and the ache - gone!  Simply put – and at the risk of sounding cliché – the point of completion my dad and I reached was and is beautiful.  
“A daughter needs a dad to be the standard against which she will judge all men”


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