My dad’s been sick, and for the first time, on Father’s Day, I had to feed him. A spoonful of soup, a bite of chicken, then a sip or two of water. It was the worst Father’s Day I can ever remember. Of course, you can imagine I was heartbroken, but when two different friends said, “I’d fall apart if I had to do that — but you’re strong.” I started to wonder why some women label themselves as weak and what made me seem strong.
After thinking about it for a while, I decided that although mothers play an important role in raising strong daughters, Fathers are also an essential part of the journey. Sitting next to his bed, I realized my Dad was the one who taught me to be confident. I’ve always felt sorry for women who constantly seek approval or think criticizing other women’s bodies, clothing or other personal qualities will make them feel better about themselves and wonder if somehow a shaky bond with their dad amplified their insecurities.
My Dad taught me my identity comes from God, not my job, education, husband or house. The key to my confidence is that Daddy taught me how to do a job — but refused to do it for me.
Once I learned the correct procedures, maintaining my car, painting furniture, asking for a raise, and speaking to the waiter who brought me the wrong order were all my responsibility. “Do it yourself” wasn’t a punishment. It was a challenge.
My parents never offered, nor did I ask them to help me move to a new apartment in college when I could handle it myself. Trading favors with friends to load up boxes was actually fun and was another lesson in independence for all of us.
Daddy only had brothers and out of 62 first cousins (wow), the overwhelming majority were male. Girls were strange to the point he had a little freak-out episode when he saw my mother wearing curlers in her hair for the first time. His mother always went to the beauty parlor, so he didn’t know such things existed. He’d never been around dolls, tea sets or ruffled lace socks.
One of the few times I ever saw Daddy cry outside of a funeral, was when I told him someone I loved had been cruel and broken my heart. He dabbed his eyes with his handkerchief, and when he finally spoke, made a plan to kill the guy. Well, not really, but it was seriously implied.
Our family has always been on the thin side, and the teenagers in Daddy’s youth group at church gave him a hard time about being slim. I truly thought they were being sarcastic, because to me, he had the personality of a giant.
With Goliath ready to kill for me, I was secure in taking risks.
Like other women who have been taught to stand on their own, I don’t worry too much when trouble comes. I’ve taken care of the details after being hit by a drunk driver in college. I’ve stood up to bullies for myself and others who were weak and kept my wits about me while I rushed my son to the emergency room with an arm that was bending in four places. I’ve stared down a group of inner-city drug dealers (another story for another day) and have been able to do all of this because my Dad modeled — then expected great calm in stressful situations.
Parents who run to the aid of their daughters every time they sneeze are raising women who are in danger of doubting themselves and falling apart in times of stress, and as I’m learning, that may be the exact time their parents need them the most.
The man who didn’t know anything about girls ended up raising a confident, happy woman. I was taught to take risks under the watchful eye of a giant whether he was standing behind me or watching with his soft blue eyes from bed as I fed him his lunch, teaching me yet one more lesson in strength.