The best thing my dad ever gave me was himself. While I had to share him with my three sisters, I still had all of him, all the time. Being emotionally available and present for your daughter, no matter the time of day or how busy you may be, is what truly makes a good dad, in my opinion. While traveling on business, my dad would call to check in. While at home, he would organize family game nights and take us out for TCBY White Chocolate Mousse waffle cones. He listened to me, and offered thoughtful advice when I needed it. He went through a multitude of broken hearts with me, the pain always evident in his eyes even when I knew he wasn’t exactly heartbroken to see some of the boys gone. His heart still broke because of my sadness. He always knew what to say to turn my tears into laughter.
He would come home from a long day at the Pentagon where his troubles were real and often life or death matters, and would give me his undivided attention as I told him my worries about one of my missing beanie babies, or the argument I had with my sister. He gave me all of him, all the time.
The older I get, the more I realize that this is not the norm in most families. I have some friends who never knew their fathers, and others who knew them but wish they didn’t. Of course there were times I felt like I hated my dad — we all go through those phases. Like the time he told my entire Sunday School class about the cantaloupe I kept in my school locker for a month, and how the smell of rotting melon had the entire middle school administration wondering what had died in the rafters. But more important than the few times that I ‘hated’ him are the innumerable amount of times that I felt deep gratitude, respect, and love for him. My childhood is made up of millions of those moments.
My dad taught me how to ride a bike, ski down a mountain side, pay my taxes, do long division (still working on that one, dad), repair a hole in the wall, cook the perfect pot of tomato soup, and how to drive. He flew with me to the Florida Keys to interview for my dream job, knowing that my chances of getting the job were better if I showed up in person as opposed to a phone interview (it worked). He gives me all of himself, all the time. He taught me all the words to his Navy bootcamp songs while we drove from Virginia to California together, and then re-taught them to me a few years later as the Navy moved us from California back to Virginia. 6,000 miles we drove together, and what I wouldn’t give to be able to redo those trips today with him, as adults.
With him by my side, physically and emotionally, my dad has patiently gone through each life stage with me. As hard as it may have been for him, watching his daughter stumble through life with the grace of a newborn giraffe, he let me find my own way and acquire some bumps and bruises when necessary. But only when he knew that they would contribute to my personal growth.
My voice mail is full of saved messages from my dad, his sentiments almost always the same, and no less special each time I hear his words: I was just calling to hear your voice, and to tell you I love you and I’m proud of you.
Because of my dad, I know the exact type of father that I want my kids to have someday, and there is no gift better than that. I can’t wait for my children to have the father that I had– one who gave all of himself, all the time.