I remember when I was little, I always got the Happy Meal at McDonald’s and my dad always got the Quarter Pounder with Cheese combo, with fries and a chocolate shake. My mom worked there, so we ate there a lot. And I always wanted to be big and strong like Daddy, and I wanted him to be proud of me. So over the years I slowly let go of things that he labeled “girly” or “weak”, two terms he used pretty much interchangeably. He taught me how to arm wrestle and break knees, he did not appreciate high pitched giggles or easy crying.
At first I thought he didn’t want anyone to be girly, until the week before my sister’s 8th grade dance. You see, when it was my turn (I’m a year older) I didn’t want to go, but a friend named Gail was pestering about it because she didn’t want to go alone. So I asked Dad, assuming I knew what he would say about “boys my age” and all that stuff he always yelled at the TV any time there was a sex scene. He barely looked up from what he was doing. “Really, you want to go to that?” he mumbled. “Well… not really, but Gail wants me to.” I said, doing my due diligence to my friend. I told her I would ask, and I knew he’d say no. “Sure, I guess.” he looked up for a second, spoke it, nodded slightly. His “you’re dismissed” signal.
So I went, and no one danced with me, or even talked to me. Gail’s other friends showed up, though they had said they wouldn’t, and she was gone. I wandered home alone and didn’t think about it too much. It was what I expected.
Then, my sister asked him the same question. “WHAT!?” it started. The Speech. About “boys her age”, and what the hell was she thinking, and OF COURSE she couldn’t go. So, OK, I’m so disgusting that my dad doesn’t even have to worry about me. I am unrapeable, even. That’s… that’s great. Thanks, Dad.
But when I was little, things were different. And one day, I asked for the Quarter Pounder with Cheese. I wanted to be a grown up, a Big Girl. He gave me a smile that said “hey, ok then, stepping up are ya?” and I ate that thing. And how much you could eat became some kind of badge of honor. That sort of thing is supposed to live only in boys’ freshman dorms or football team outings, not between a father and daughter.
I want to tell you something about my dad. He is a good man. Not because of everything he does, but because of some of them. He has more rough edges than edges, but when he knows something is true you cannot pull him away from it. Granted, a lot of the things he thinks are true I think are not. But the one most important thing is God, and my dad clings to Him with everything he has. And that has changed him. Slowly, but who am I to say too slow? It’s not my journey. I only feel like I should get to judge him because of all the crap he put on me, all the ways that his struggles created struggles for me. It wasn’t fair, how he treated me. But it’s also not fair of me to think that he wasn’t trying. He connected with me the way he knew how. He taught me what he thought I needed to know. He showed me how no matter who or where or what you are, you can cling to God. And I do, and when I let Him align my thoughts I find more and more separation from and forgiveness for my father.
I asked him about the dance about a year ago. He wasn’t worried about me because he assumed that I could take care of myself. He phrased it, “I pictured you stuffing one of those punks into a trash can, I knew you’d be OK.” I’m still figuring out what ways I want to be tough, but you know what? It’s OK with me that I know how to arm wrestle and break knees. And it’s OK with me that I didn’t grow up being a traditional Girl, because in this culture I think the whole idea is messed up anyways. I’d rather be Michael Westen than Barbie. Or more to the point, I want to be my own version of whatever parts of whoever I like. I’ll pull from Fiona’s skills and Jess’s wardrobe, and not explain myself to either. I AM a girl, and I will decide what that means.
When I was little I had a vision of what I wanted to be, and that vision really belonged to my father. I will never know if I got it right or if something was lost in translation (probably) but the important thing is that it wasn’t mine. I do not want to aspire to eat. I want to aspire to… I don’t know. I’ll have a report on your desk by Friday.
Everybody always says “be your own person”, but nobody ever talks about the work involved. You are inventing a whole person. Make her awesome! I mean, why not??