My eldest daughter turned eighteen two months ago, a milestone loaded with implication and emotion. As her father, I felt an intense (self-imposed) pressure to mark the occasion appropriately, to acknowledge my genuine love and pride as openly and honestly as this East Coast WASP could manage. Certainly, this was the moment to pull out all the stops and come up with something more meaningful than a handshake and a slap on the back.
My wife has said that having two daughters (before a son) was karmic balancing. She believes that there were important life lessons I needed to learn from the girls that I did not receive growing up in an apartment full of brothers or at the all-boys schools I attended.
My brothers and I were physically energetic, rough and competitive. Our favorite indoor games were Gladiator, Five Fingers of Death, and The Blob. These games took place within the concrete confines of the largest bedroom. We all suffered our share of bumps, bruises, some blood and a few broken bones. When one of us was hurt badly enough to summon my mother, she would inspect the wound calmly and decide whether stitches were required. Usually, she advised us to take an aspirin, begged us not to get blood on the carpet, and to please calm down before someone got really hurt.
So, empathy is not my strong suit. It was never modeled. Feelings were seldom expressed in my family and rarely considered—too risky. We did not tell each other “I love you”—too vulnerable. Crying was an option, but only in cases of extreme anger or pain—never as the manifestation of feelings.
Throughout most of my marriage and the lives of my kids, I have been emotionally evasive and rarely available. If I had feelings—loneliness, sadness, even joy—they were repressed. The problem over the years was that I sought to stuff everyone else’s feelings as well, because they made me uncomfortable. Like a lot of men I know, my instinct was ‘Let’s not talk about it. Let’s just fix it.’ You can get away with that when you’re single or in the boardroom, but not when family comes into the picture. Especially girls.
My wife was right about the karmic balancing. Gradually, my two daughters’ loving, demonstrative natures did chip away at my bunker. I learned to tell my kids that I love them—first as a response to those words that came so easily from their lips—but eventually unprompted. I learned to allow them to cry, no matter how unbearable it was for me, reminding and assuring myself that it wasn’t my job to wave my magic daddy wand to fix their emotional wounds.
It is only recently, though, because my marriage was forced to its crisis, that I have started the hard work to locate my own heart, dared to expose it ever so slightly and allow some old, raw feelings a chance to breath. I am evolving but have a long way to go. I am still emotionally awkward and suppress much of what affects me. Certainly, I shy away from overt sentimentality.
Back to my eldest’s birthday. How does this emotionally stunted dad express his deep love, respect and gratitude to his daughter at this seminal moment in her life? I know many parents (given the wherewithal) cover it with an extravagant gift like a car or a trip. (“See, that’s how much I love you. Enough said.”) And I can relate to that instinct, but a) I am not Mr. Gotrocks, so Christmas in Zermatt wasn’t going to happen; and b) call me old school, but I am of the belief that a gift made with imagination, by hand, is a thousand times more meaningful than one that is bought. (Not that my daughter wouldn’t appreciate a new car.)
In the end, in consultation with her wise mother, I did only as much as I could: 1) I told her I love her and am so proud to have her as a daughter; 2) I hugged her for as long as she could stand it; 3) I put together enough cash to buy her something really nice; and 4) I made something, which I will share…
A princess was born to a family in Venice,
A mother, a father, a dog (who was jealous),
On October 25th, exactly eighteen years ago,
Blue eyes, chubby cheeks, and a warm, knowing glow.
From the very beginning, they were both most impressed
By their little girl’s grace, intuition, her artistic finesse.
Throughout her young life she made them so proud,
Strong, caring, independent — ignoring the crowd.
Without breaking a sweat, she seized every day
While they watched in awe (what could they say?).
She was the whole package: style, brains and beauty,
A great big heart and a cute little booty.
Her friendship was prized, but never given lightly,
Her loyalty unquestioned, not even slightly.
Her good friends adored her – she was reliable in a crunch.
As for boyfriends… well, she ate them for lunch.
At eighteen the girl had already accomplished so much
In her studies, athletics, the arts (and such).
The Princess’s future was so bright it was blinding,
And though sad she’d grown up her parents kept reminding
Their daughter was ready – there was nothing she lacked.
Nothing, perhaps, except for a Mac…*
*… BookPro from Mom, Dad, and Grandma Virginia. Yay! Let’s go shopping.
(reprinted from “Dads Good“, Good Men Project)
I am blessed to have a talented, thoughtful and generous husband who is not only preparing a delicious New Year’s Eve meal as we speak, but has also lent me this insightful and touching post, a perfect end to a momentous year. For more of Mike’s experiences with fatherhood and the RIE Philosophy, please click on “Dads” in my tag cloud.
Please share any comments (Mike would love to hear them) and we both wish you the brightest, most joyous new year ever!
Oh my! This did make me cry. you are clearly not as repressed as you make yourself out to be, Mike. So sweet. I too can’t believe Charlotte is 18. Seems like just yesterday when we were all lying on the grass outside that lovely little cottage in the dordogne valley, as charlotte crawled around and babbled to us. She really has grown into an impressive woman–grandma rose filled us in on all the details of her recent trip to ny.
Have a lovely new years eve! We love you all and miss you.
Xoxox emily, george, elizabeth and natalie
Dear Mike and Janet,
What an extremely heartfelt, beautiful gift you have shared on this New Year’s Eve! This is a gift not only to Charlotte, but to Janet and all her readers as well.
Thank you for your courage and candor…it takes a lot to delve so deep and share so openly.
I must admit I did not have a chance to get to know you well, but what I did see was a man who loved his family very much.
We send our love to you and your wonderful family. Thank you again… Happy New Year!
Hi there. Thank you so much for this sweet and honest story! I am in awe of your developing awareness , continued striving and love and devotion to your family. Happy New Year!
I’m cooking for the brood tonight. Moyna’s meringues, somebody’s famous latkes, too-much-seafood salad, a pork loin… then board games. Very competitive, hoping to avoid fisticuffs, but you know Janet… Thanks for your comments. The older I get, the less I know. Or, maybe, the less I WANT to know. Happy New Year. It’s got to get better, no?
Beautiful. My mother-in-law told me once that she always wished she’d had a daughter (in addition to her three boys) because she just knew that would have softened her hard-headed and sometimes even hard-hearted (or at least hidden-hearted) husband.
This is really beautiful.
Enjoy your beautiful family and thanks for let us enjoy your honesty
You are a beautiful father. We all have our daily challenges, and I admire your talent and courage in moving forward.
May 2011 be kind to us all!
What beautiful presents for this lucky girl! I´m sure she deserves it all.
I only know you as a person, and as a father, through reading your posts here. Every time I’ve read a post you’ve written, I’ve always thought, “What lucky children, to have a father who is so clearly devoted to and in love with them, and yet who strives to see them and support them for who they are.”
Regarding this post, I just keep coming back to read it again, and it brings tears to my eyes every time.
Thank you for taking the risk of being so honest and candid. It’s a gift to all of us, as well as to your family.
It takes a lot of courage and a strong man to show themselves the way you have here.
Lucky all of you -for finding each other, staying together, and staying open to the lessons you each have to offer the other, through all the good and all the hard times. Perhaps that’s the best example of the power of love and family to heal and change us, if we can only stay open to the lessons. May it always remain so, for you and your family.
I loved this post. It is something that I have to do deliberately with my oldest being a girl as well. I am not at all in touch with my emotions, and I want her to be able to find a husband someday who is able to access all sides of himself. Please stop by my blog because I happened to post today discussing my emotional struggles that fatherhood has helped me through.
Here’s the link: http://manvdadhood.blogspot.com/2010/12/blood-or-water-part-2-broken-cycle.html
Thanks again for this post!
I love my Daddy oh so very much
Michael (and Janet) I am reading this blogg for the first time! Really GREAT, wish I had something like this when my kids were infants and toddlers! What a wonderful “gift” you gave to Charlotte. A wise, thoughtful and caring father! I am going to spread the word about this great resource to all the families I know.
Heidi, you are wonderful! Thank you for the vote of support. xo
Dear Michael and Janet,
Thank you for sharing this beautiful post. The letter brought tears to my eyes. On Christmas Eve, my husband and I realized our big box of gifts from Nova Naturals must have been delayed and wasn’t arriving my Christmas. All of our daughters gifts(ages 2.5 and 5yr) were in that order. So, we got creative. I wrote each girl a long love letter similar to Michael’s, among many other hand made gifts, treasures, games, hidden candy canes in the forest. Of course, our girls didn’t even notice they were lacking in playthings. As a matter of fact, on Dec 26th, Grace our oldest wrote a note and put it under my door “yesterday was the best day of my life.” (with inventive spelling). The girls ask me to read their letters every night at dinner. Michael’s letter is heartwarming and inspiring. Thank you for sharing with all of us.
A post on the key to your success of 20 years of marriage would be appreciated too.
Joy, that is a beautiful story and I can’t thank you enough for sharing it. As to your question about successful marriages, I don’t know that I have much to share…except that I got lucky finding Mike. And when it’s tough between us, our love for our children fills in the gaps.
Thank you for being so honest and open about your emotions … Thank you for for consulting your wise woman 🙂 and not feeling not unmanly about it …
Love to your family …
Angelina Pau Hana
I love your blog and especially having Michael’s wonderful addition and posts. This is a beautiful example for all moms and dad’s who feel emotionally stunted. thank you Michael
Mike, I love the honesty of the struggles that you share above. I’m a grandmother now, so I’m able to see how my parenting was either positive or negative, depending on the situation and my patience level ( day of the week, work stressors, you get the picture). I think my favorite part of having kids, was their ability to help me see things outside of the box, to grow emotionally and to encourage me to let go of the stuff I can’t change. I guess I love the dynamic of we teach them, but they also teach us.
I loved your poem to Charlotte and how you gave her something she most definitely would have used. Who knows? Maybe she wanted a car, I don’t know, but shopping w her dad for a MacPro is an amazing memory.