At a recent Chick-fil-A visit, my kids got some cards with questions on them that were meant to spark dinner discussions. As we went around the table answering these questions, my 9-year-old daughter pulled a card that said, “Who gives the best hugs?” She immediately and without reservation answered, “Grandpa!”
It stopped me in my tracks as I thought about how true that is for her and how different my dad has become because this little girl loves him so fully.
When my daughter got old enough to put sentences together, she began to retell the story of her adoption that she had heard from us so many times. But in her retelling she added a key detail that none of us knew. She would say, “I loved Daddy first. Then Grandpa. Then Mommy.” I could never feel too bad about that timeline because it was just the truth. From the moment she was placed with us as a 4-month-old, she knew that her daddy loved her and she was intent on charming her grandpa. She has always loved my dad fiercely and confidently and it’s been beautiful to me to see the way that has impacted his heart and her relationship with him.
The dad I grew up with was a little cautious about being physically affectionate with his kids. He didn’t always know when or how to offer affirmations. He worked hard for our family, loved us faithfully, and was home every night for dinner. We learned to translate those actions as proof of his love, even if he didn’t always know how to put his love into words. When he did verbally or physically express his love for me, I knew it was a special moment and I treasured it in my heart. I instinctively knew that he needed a certain level of space and didn’t push him to be someone he wasn’t.
But that never occurred to my daughter. She has always wanted to be held by her grandpa. She has expected that he would always want to hug her and would value being hugged. She has loved him without any regard for his feelings about personal space. She has affirmed him without waiting for him to affirm her first. And in loving him with that kind of selfless abandon, she has created the kind of grandpa she knew she needed.
He lights up around her. He wants to spend time with her because she’s so obviously dying to spend time with him. He has become more tender and playful with his other grandkids because they have learned to expect him to be the same kind of grandpa for them that he is for her.
I can see how she has tendered something inside of him with her ferocious love. And I know she feels confident and worthy of that kind of love in response because that’s how my husband and I have always loved her. In some beautiful act of redemption, the love I’ve given to my daughter has helped my dad become the man I always needed him to be.
Sometimes we imagine that people can’t change. But love does strange things to us. It’s been a joy to watch the little changes in my dad as he is loved by somebody who doesn’t worry about being rejected. Where I learned to respect what I thought were my dad’s boundaries and assumed that’s just was who he was, my daughter has functioned under the assumption that everyone wants to be aggressively loved. And now I think maybe she’s right.
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