Relationships with parents can be so complex. When it comes to the father-daughter relationship, it could be a sensitive subject, or it could be really simple.
Because my Dad is not very verbal (grunts and bodily noises don’t count), and he’s also very analytical and unemotional, I had no confirmation of his love. I tried HARD as a girl to seek and gain his approval.
In honor of Father’s Day, I am dedicating today’s post to my father and treating you to a few brief excerpts from the forthcoming release of my first book this Fall, What’s Wrong With Me? under my new publishing imprint Kharacter Distinction Books. Please comment and let us know what you think. Happy Father’s Day!
The Passive Compliment
When I was about 10 or so, I was excited to make dinner (I don’t remember what it was, just that I made it). I anxiously awaited to get my Dad’s reaction to what I fixed for dinner, but he didn’t readily give his opinion or make any comments. So I asked, “Dad, is it any good? Do you like it?”
He barely looked up and replied gruffly, “I’m eating it, ain’t I?” And that was one of my first compliments from my critical, analytical Dad.
No, Not Her… Her!
My dad placed a high importance on education and getting good grades in school. He was the valedictorian of his high school class, and he took education very seriously, just like his dad did. One of the ways I could always get his approval was by making sure my report card had high marks.
Once at the admissions office of a college in Boston, my dad told the administrator that my grades were just OK, but he pointed at my little sister and said, “she’s the straight-A student.” I felt like he was undermining my good work by comparing us, and he wasn’t comparing apples to apples. I got A’s and B’s (with a few C’s here and there) throughout high school, but to him, it didn’t seem to be good enough. I didn’t know that years later, I would go on to become the first in the family to earn not one, but two college degrees before my siblings earned any. Earning top grades and degrees didn’t make me better than them or more worthy of success, but as a 17-year-old, my dad’s statement hurt my feelings and fostered a certain sense of competition and resentment.
“Good Job, Kids”
Years later, when I was married, my husband and I prepared Thanksgiving dinner for the first time—the turkey, all the trimmings and fixins—at our new home in Upper Marlboro, MD. My family came down from Baltimore, MD and Utica, and we had a great time. (I think it was my birthday too—every six years, my birthday is on Thanksgiving Day). Once everyone had their seconds and thirds, my Dad got up and looked at the remaining leftovers (there wasn’t much), and in front of everyone he said, “Good job, kids.”
I know my dad loves me because of his actions, not his lack of words. He calls when it’s my birthday, he sends cards, and occasionally he visits (he lives about 8 hours away by car), even though he typically stays less than two whole days. A little approval goes a long way.
One of the things I’ve come to understand and accept is that there are some people whose love, attention, or approval you want or need, but they may give it to you in ways that you don’t expect, or don’t want to accept. Maybe they had a small love tank, or no role models to show them how to give, receive, or show affection. Maybe it’s just their personality. Maybe their love language is different from yours. I do not always agree with the way my Dad may have treated us as family, and I don’t understand everything, but I have forgiven him for what he failed to give me emotionally. Not to make excuses, but you can’t give something that you don’t have. Now that I’m older, I reach out to my Dad, and he may not always meet me halfway, but he will take a few steps toward me, and he accepts me.
Speaking of love languages, there are five as described by Dr. Gary Chapman in his book The Five Love Languages (words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, physical touch, and gifts). It’s important that while you identify your own pretty easily, when you’re dealing with others, you have to relate to them in THEIR love language if you want them to feel loved by you.
People can express their feelings with actions, not just words. I often want to hear words of affirmation or affection, but I accept his way, too.
When it comes to praise, my dad is no more vocal now than he was in my youth. But I accept that it’s his way, I’ve made peace with what I lacked back then, and I’m grateful for the relationship I am able to have with him now.