It might be cliché, but my father is definitely the first man I ever loved. If you know him, you won’t be surprised by that at all. And while I wasn’t spoiled in any sense, I was well loved in every sense, and my father was a pro at loving his kids well.
While I had a big imagination as a kid and loved all sorts of dramatic role-playing, I wasn’t the girl who dreamed about her wedding, a knight-in-shining-armor, or some sort of white-picket-fence domesticity. Most of the time I was more absorbed in hanging out with my friends, building forts, creating and writing columns for fake newspapers, or catching tiny frogs and lightning bugs in jars. But I do remember consistently thinking I wanted to marry someone like my dad.
Dad’s funny and smart. He’s the life of any party but also gets quickly absorbed in books about obscure historical events. You might find him kayaking in the early morning, followed by a nap with a sleeping grand-baby on his chest. And he’s a consummate helper, from cooking to cleaning and carting excited grandkids around for adventures.
I got a great checklist of intentional fatherhood from dad, things that I knew (even if subconsciously) I wanted in the father of my kids. Dad was a hard worker, even when work was hard. There were a few years when, after his long commute to the Pentagon, long days working on some international crisis, and long drives home, he was beat at the end of every day, but he still gave us his best.
He fared just fine in a female-dominated home. A house full of daughters might have been a bit scary at times, but he rolled with those punches. We had board game competitions, learned to drive the riding lawnmower with him, and listened to him tell fantastical stories or read the Bible at night. Because he grew up in Brazil and spoke fluent Portuguese, we’d beg him over and over to sing the Brazilian National Anthem for our friends, or perform one of his favorite childhood Portuguese raps. And man, did my friends love him. They thought he was the funniest guy on the planet. I sometimes acted annoyed at that, but really I was proud.
It didn’t take long for me to realize the man I was falling in love with during college was a lot like my dad. Though a bit quieter, my husband is also an in-the-trenches father. He’s a dad who knows we’re in this parenting thing together and always helps in any way. Walking the floor at night with a newborn? Diapers? Early mornings with tireless toddlers? Taking kids on errands? Supporting my parenting decisions? Listening to heart-broken teens? All that and more. Plus, he’s pretty funny and doesn’t mind my sopping-wet sense of humor.
Now I love to see my husband and my father together. They really like each other and have a lot of fun when they’re together. My husband feels like he got blessed with a second father, and I am so thankful their relationship is not only healthy, but also based on mutual respect and love.
I’m well aware that some people reading this received a negative example from their fathers, sort of a whom-NOT-to-marry influence. Just that knowledge is heart-breaking, and I hope it spurs those women on to find men worthy of them. My experience is a gift, and I hope I am always grateful for it.
My daughters frequently hear from me that if they get married, I hope they find someone like their father or Papa. And while the personalities of their future husbands might be different, there are some constants I hope for them. I want them to feel cherished and supported, to be treated with kindness and dignity, to have someone to laugh and relax with, and to be appreciated and accepted. That might seem like a tall order, but I think that’s all right.
Father’s Day celebrations make me feel like I hit the jackpot. For the first 20 years of my life, the most wonderful man raised me and launched me into adulthood. And for the second 20 years, I’ve had another wonderful man to share my life and home, help me raise a houseful of kids, and face growing old together. I hope I have both of these men around for a lot longer.