Jim Valvano said, “My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person: He believed in me”. I feel I could have said those words myself, because the greatest gift my dad ever gave me wasn’t the hundreds of tops, jeans, and skirts; it wasn’t the afternoon throwing and pitching softballs to me; and it wasn’t even teaching me the valuable aspect of “don’t look at the speedometer, just drive the speed you feel comfortable at”. No, even though all these brought joy, happiness, and smiles, the most valuable thing my dad ever gave me was loving me more than anybody else in this world.
I lost my dad when I was 15 years old, which is a crucial time in a person’s life. You are right in the middle of saying goodbye to childhood and hello to becoming an adult. You’re transitioning and changing in every way possible. You’re putting away childish things and preparing for the real world and what you believe it has to offer. Acceptance, understanding, and self-importance are three main factors during this time needed to become a healthy-functioning adult, and needless to say losing a parent at this point can be downright devastating. At 15 you’re old enough to remember them, to know them, and to expect them to always be there. You’re also old enough to understand how life works, that death is permanent, and that person will never return. It can be humbling and a complete shocker to a normal self-involved teenager. Looking back now at how tumultuous my life became after my dad was taken, it’s actually bittersweet because it wasn’t until he died that I understood the true relationship of a daddy’s girl with her daddy and that is, I was his world, I sat on top of it with a golden crown and could do no wrong. He was my protector, my provider, and not even knowing it, a presence that was always there even when he was out of town working. He was my world as well, I was just to self-involved in me to see it was him that had put my world together and so when he died, not understanding why, my world came crashing down with me falling down into the rubble.
Father’s Day quickly became a day I despised. All my grandfathers had already passed away so I felt like I was the only one who didn’t have a dad to celebrate the joyous day with. As I said I was a teenager and as most teenagers do when they are hurt they become angry, so instead of grieving I became angry and I loathed the day. I remember one particular father’s day was hard, I’m not sure why, it had been several years since my dad had died and I was around 19 years old. Me and my now-husband were arguing because of my sourness (which I am so grateful he put up with for all those years) and I remember telling him I was sorry I just hated this day and he looked at me at asked, “Well if you don’t get over it, what are you going to do when we have kids?”. I was taken back by the question and not sure if I even answered besides a muttered “I don’t know”. Dennis wasn’t being mean and he asked the question with simple honesty, and even though we’ve had many arguments since then that one question haunted me for so long because I honestly had no answer to it, I had no clue how I was going to be able to be happy on a holiday that always reminded me of what I had lost. Then came Desi.
As I’ve said in previous columns, I have dated my husband since I was 15 years old; he has been a staple in my life for almost half of it. I’ve gone through the butterflies, first love, and even becoming a “them” all with Dennis. I knew before Desi that he was my soul mate, my partner, and my rib, I had already fell in love with Dennis, but when Desi came along I fell in love again. The first time I saw him look at her ultrasound and pick her name I started to fall in love with another man. And the first time I saw Dennis hold Desi in his arms I got butterflies again. Then when we brought Desi home and he held her, loved her, and rocked her to sleep, I knew I was gone; I had fallen in love hard, and not for Dennis, but for Desi’s dad. The man Dennis was before Desi is essentially the same, he has the same morals, beliefs, likes and dislikes, but after Desi, Dennis grew into a loving, patient, and absolutely breathtaking dad. Every time I see him with her I fall in love a little more as I see another part of him I never knew existed.
So I finally got the answer to the question Dennis asked me so long ago and it’s that I love Father’s Day again. I love seeing the light that shines in my husband’s eyes when Desi runs into the room and wakes him up. I love the chuckle he gets when he sees himself in her. I love that I am not number one in his life anymore because she is. I love knowing that he is her world and she is his because now I understand how important a father’s love is. I knew that I was worthy of a good, Christian man because of my dad. I knew that I always deserved the best because of my dad. He taught me how a man should treat a lady by always baiting my hooks without complaints, he showed me to never settle for less than what I believed I deserved by giving into me with an extra toy, and he taught me to love myself and understand just how valuable I was as a person by making sure every night that I knew I was his little girl, I was his number one.
Billy Graham once said, “A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society”. I am so grateful to have a life surrounded by strong men and fathers. Men that wake up at 5:00 a.m. to get to work in the blistering hot sun to provide a good life for their families, men who go to the dollar store ten minutes til closing to grab that gallon of milk, men who will hold their breath as they change another stinky diaper, and men who push their babies around the block 10 different times because that’s what the baby wanted. These men carry tiny whole worlds on their shoulders, never complaining, instead doing so with pride. Good fathers – may we know them, may we notice them, and may we raise them.