Growing up, I never fit in. I was that awkward girl who could never really relate to anyone, the girl who preferred to read or roam the woods rather than play with friends because I was more comfortable alone.
On multiple occasions, I overheard whispered conversations between my mom and our family or friends asking if there was something wrong with me. Why was I so odd? Was she sure I was normal?
The only person who ever saw and loved me for who I am (aside from my husband) was my father. He embraced my weirdness and encouraged my love of books, my curiosity for history and science, and truly seemed to like me. Not just love me—but like me.
I would wait up until midnight or later for him to come home from work, long after my mother and brother had fallen asleep because I yearned for that connection, that acceptance, that appreciation that I was someone special and I was perfect just the way I was.
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That never changed . . . until I had my firstborn.
My husband and I named our son after both our fathers because they made such an incredible difference in our lives.
And while my dad had always been there for me before my pregnancy, my son’s arrival changed everything.
I wasn’t prepared to be a mom, which was hard enough, but my son is what the experts call “high needs,” and he has been that way since the hour he was born. Instead of baby snuggles, he twisted and squirmed and hit and kicked—every single minute. He cried almost every single hour of every single day for the first six months he was alive, and he didn’t sleep.
My husband and I were at our wits’ end—we were fighting, snapping at each other, and basically just trying to keep our son alive and relatively happy (read: five minutes without crying) while staying sane at the same time.
My dad seemed so happy to have his own grandson for the first week. I remember the turning point when he came around to mow the lawn (we rented his guest house right next door), and I was outside crying and trying to rock my son to stop him from crying.
My dad pulled him onto his lap, tried a few things, furrowed his brow when nothing worked, and handed him back. Are you sure he’s not sick? Are you sure you’re doing everything right? Are you sure nothing’s wrong with him?
And in that moment, I heard my family’s whispered concerns from when I was young: Are you sure she’s normal?
After that, a few babysitting experiences went awry. My dad and stepmom would call us 20 minutes after we dropped him off and sat down to dinner and ask that we come back and pick him up because he wouldn’t stop crying. Whenever we visited, we would ask if my dad wanted to hold his namesake—he’d shake his head and say he’d rather not.
Every experience would bring those memories back, and they made my heart sore. My dad saw and loved who I was when no one else did, but when it came to the new, most important person in my life, he reacted just like my other family members did to me. And it hurt to think that he was turning into them, just because he wouldn’t put in the time and the patience to not only bond with his grandson, but to help us survive that difficult first year.
We ended up moving to be closer to my husband’s family, who were unperturbed by my son’s antics and needs, and who are now a huge part of his life. We have yet to see my dad and stepmom after almost two years.
My heart still hurts at what transpired between my dad and me.
Our relationship has become strained, although to our credit, we both try to stay in touch and talk. But it’s still hard, and I don’t think it will ever be what it was.
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My son is difficult, I’m the first to admit that. His terrible twos started by about month six, and they’re still going strong. But despite that, he is one of the most precious people I’ve ever known.
While he throws tantrums and screams and hits and kicks, it just shows his incredible passion and his strength—something he’ll most likely need in the future. When he’s calm, he has the sweetest smile and the cuddliest hugs that make my heart melt. When he’s angry, he’s angry. When he loves you, he loves you fully and completely, and that makes up for all his difficult moments.
I wish my dad had made more of an effort with my son instead of writing him off like everyone did to me when I was younger. Just like Dad saw something he liked in me, he would have found it in my son, too.
It’s still painful. But I can only hope that one day, he’ll try to see my son for the beautiful person he is—and build a relationship with him before my son gets old enough that he understands he was put to the side because he was thought of as “abnormal.” That is my hope and my prayer every single day. And if that doesn’t happen, then at least my son will know his parents love him to the moon and back without reservation, even when he’s at his worst.