Not everyone is blessed to have their father in their life. So to have a good one, is an even greater privilege.
I grew up idolizing my dad. I thought he was handsome, strong, intelligent and friendly. Then, like many others I arrived at a stage in my life where my parents were no longer put on pedestals. They were people with flaws and worries, and they made mistakes, just like everyone else. First I judged them for it, you can call this my rebellious teenage phase. Then I was lucky enough to learn to accept, love and admire my parents for all of who they are and what they have done and continue to do for me.
This post is about my dad. I want to highlight how he contributed to my journey in learning to be a strong woman. Let me start off by saying, my dad is not a perfect human being. I also dare not claim he is the best father in the world. He is however, a loving, protective, dedicated, hardworking and generous dad to me. I love him and I know many others who love him too. We have had many disagreements and we do not get along all the time – but I know he is the one man who will love and protect me no matter what.
There is no denying that a role of a father is extremely impactful on a child’s life. For my dad, it was not just about how frequent he was around or how many phone calls he made home. It was not about how many gifts he bought me or how nice his car was. For my dad, it was what he said and did to connect with me that became deeply engraved in my heart.
Here are the moments in my life that my dad has gifted me. I hope it gives the fathers and ‘fathers-to-be’ out there a better perspective on what matters.
My personal experience tells me that apologizing does get harder as we get older! We have learned to mask our feelings of shame and unworthiness by becoming defensive about our mistakes, and denying when we are wrong. My dad gifted me the memory of him apologizing to me. I was raised in an Asian household where discipline and respect were highly valued (read “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua to get a more intense version of Asian parenting). Although my dad’s spanking were never as frequent as my moms, when it did happen, it was 10 times more terrifying.
The first time I ever got spanked (I was 5-6years old that time), my dad sat me down and apologized after we were both calm. My dad’s apology to me was not only ‘humbling’ and unexpected. He showed that he understood that it hurt me and his empathy for my pain built our relationship.
The undeniable existence of gender inequality, even in my era, makes a bigger deal about men crying. As an example, during weddings, I catch myself feeling more excited about the groom crying compared to the bride. When he does, I get all teary eyed because for some reason it just meant that much ‘more’ that the man cried.
My dad is not naturally an emotional person. So when it is clear that he is ‘feeling’ something, he’s got my attention. When children are intuitive about their parent’s feelings, it typically impacts the child’s emotional state as children lack the ability to comprehend complex emotions. Children will learn to mimic responses (e.g. show anger, find comfort, run and hide) that are demonstrated or encouraged by others.
My dad has gifted me the memory of him crying when he was at his most vulnerable. One of these incidences was when my uncle (his youngest brother) passed away in a work accident many years ago. My dad was so heart broken he couldn’t finish conversations about him without his voice breaking. This created a space for our family to comfort him. We never avoided talking about my uncle, we all grieved together and it was a very memorable yet painful time for all of us.
3.He did not just talk the talk, he walk the walk.
Do you know of a parent who tells stories that start off with ‘when I was young…’ and ends with ‘…moral of the story is’? I do! These stories bore me from time to time, but it was never how great he told the story that influenced me. It was how he practiced and applied the values in his own life that inspires me.
My dad gifted me the memories of him living out values that he preached were important. I learned that family was a priority because he showed me. I learned to be thankful and helpful because he was. I learned to value my education and work hard because he lived it. I learned that I could rely on him because he always showed up at the times I needed him most.
4.He tells me he loves me.
Actions do speak louder than words, but words are equally as important. My dad gifted me memories of hearing him say “I love you” to my mom, my sister, my brother and me.
It is extremely validating to hear that someone you love, loves you back. It gives affirmation that you are worthy of someone’s heart and time. Hearing ‘I love you’ never gets old. Even now, I find so much comfort and healing to hear my parents tell me they love me.
My list may look simple, but I know for many people this is way easier than it looks. We all have a hard time opening up and being vulnerable. It’s not suppose to be easy. We struggle to do this with ourselves, with our friends, with our partners…let alone with our own child. So to all the strong dads out there I say this to you:
It is not about how much weight you could lift or how much money you make and bring home. It is not about how tough you appear when you fail or when things get stressful and sad. It is also not about how powerful you are with your requests and commands.
Love happens through the connection that you allow others to have with you. My dad lives his life the way he wants me to live mine. He loves and cares about the people that loves and cares about me. Most importantly, he loves me enough to risk being vulnerable so that I could feel comforted. He loves and shares his heart and soul with me. That alone is incredible. That alone, is what makes him my strong dad.
Happy Birthday Dad.