Becoming a woman when you’re raised by a single father means understanding manhood and all of its layers.
It’s more than yelling, “Touchdown!” sporadically on Sunday nights while wearing my father’s football merchandise. It’s more than laughing at his corny jokes, like the times he asked my friends if he could pass as my brother. It’s more than the times we almost burned the kitchen down, since neither of us knew how to cook. It’s more than the times he sat through all my favorite rom-com TV shows and movies that I “forced” him to watch; the ones I could tell he secretly enjoyed but would never admit out loud. It’s more than the times he would stand outside of Sephora waiting for me. Or any of the times he critiqued the dresses for school dances, and the outfits that I never told him were actually for first dates.
It was about him understanding me and what I needed from the mother I no longer had. It was about me understanding him and what he needed from the wife he lost to a sudden heart attack. Womanhood, when you’re raised by a single father meant a lot of unspoken lessons on inner strength.
For my father, I learned his strength lay in his pride and never doing wrong. He always has to know the right answer, and solution to everything—from crashed computer hard drives to handling the unfixable things in life. When he watched me cry outside our doorstep after I broke up with my first boyfriend, that was one of the many ways he taught me inner strength. He taught me that sometimes all that’s left to do is sob and leave things unsaid, because we never have to explain or justify our feelings. He showed me that having strength meant accepting when our pride has been broken, and not being ashamed about it. Him sitting next to me, saying nothing at all and asking nothing from me in return, spoke louder than any words he could have articulated. It meant he was there for me no matter what I did, and no matter what would come our way.
While inner strength was a layer of manhood that I grew to understand over the years, in turn I learned the other side of that layer: Humility.
I’ll never forget when I overheard him on the phone saying to whomever was on the other line that if it was up to him, he would’ve wanted to be the one who passed away. “Because a daughter needs a mother, not a father,” were his exact words.
Yes, it’s a shame what happened to my mother. But it’s not a shame that the father I had in my life was the man that he is, someone who always tried his best to support and raise two girls on his own.
There were also so many times he should’ve said no, but didn’t; times he said he could, but couldn’t. He never wanted to take away anything from me since we’d already lost so much with the passing of my mother. But ironically enough, him not knowing how to say no to me only stressed how and why we need to say no. His lack of discipline with me was due to what I think is one his biggest fears: letting me down. Ever since my mother passed, he wanted to make sure that I had my bases covered at all times; that everything I needed, I received. He made it his mission to give me the closest thing to a “normal” life he could. He just didn’t want to upset me anymore than necessary in my already disrupted world. I’ve watched my father filter my life as much as he could, in order to give me everything he thought I could possibly want. But what he needs to know is that all I could possibly want from him is what he’s already given me, which is someone who wants the best in me; someone who believes in me and his unconditional love and support.
Inner strength, pride, and humility aside, the layer of manhood that I grew up trying to understand the most was that my daughterhood was partially about filling the spaces in-between where my father needed me, but never wanted to admit or accept. You see, my father always thought that losing my mother was such a disservice in my life that he tried everything in his power to compensate for that. But I want him to know that there’s nothing to compensate for at all. All I need is him. Him being himself. Not him being the man he thinks he needs to be for me.
If there’s one thing I’ve taken away from trying to understand being a daughter to a single father, it’s the understanding of why a father in a woman’s life is crucial. If it weren’t for him and everything that comes along with him, everything he entails, I wouldn’t be who I am today. For example, my father doesn’t know how to discuss relationships and dating, and fashion is just a word rather than a lifestyle for him—which is exactly why these are the subjects I am most passionate about. My memories, my life and my dreams, wouldn’t be what they are without the man my dad thought a daughter doesn’t need. Yes, as a daughter, I wish I had my mom, but from my understanding, my femininity would not be what it is today if it weren’t for the man I am so lucky to call, “Dad.”