My father and I danced to The Chicks “Landslide” at my wedding reception. It wasn’t a typical father-daughter dance song choice, but choosing that song was the easiest non-decision I made regarding my wedding day. I never gave the song choice a second thought. I knew my dad and I would dance to “Landslide.” There had never been any other option.
When I was in elementary school, my dad regularly drove me home from sports practices. Sports was our one bonding activity, and despite his busy work schedule, he often found the time to drive me home from softball and basketball practices. On one particular evening, he was driving me home when the song “Landslide” came on just a few blocks from our house. I was singing along, and rather than pulling right into our driveway and turning off the radio, my father opted to keep driving until the song was over. It’s one of the most prominent memories with my dad, and undoubtedly my favorite.
Most of my memories about my father are not so positive.
I remember countless Thanksgivings and Christmases when my dad wasn’t around because he had to work. I remember my dad missing parts of family vacations because he needed to go back to work early. I remember my mother always in the audience for every concert, academic event, and musical, and I remember always wishing my dad could be there too. I remember being five years old and sitting in front of our Christmas tree, watching how the lights sparkled in my tear-filled eyes after watching my dad leave us again to go to work.
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Most of what I remember of my dad during my childhood is that he wasn’t around. My memories are filled with my father, with missing him because he was never really there.
By the time I was in college, I knew what I wanted in a husband. I wanted to marry a man who would give our children everything my own dad couldn’t. I wanted to marry a man who would show our children his love for them with quality time, quality experiences, and just presence. I wanted a husband who would spend time with our children, playing with them and taking an active role in their day-to-day lives. I wanted a husband who would go to the parks with us, the playgrounds, the birthday parties.
I wanted a husband who would be the father my own dad wasn’t.
And I found him.
My husband is an incredible father. Yes, he works a lot, but we know it’s a temporary arrangement. He’ll need to work two jobs until his primary one is enough to support us. But he still finds time to spend with his family. We eat dinner together nearly every night. He eats breakfast one-on-one with each of our children once a week while I take the other to church with me. We have family days on Saturdays, and the four of us spend the afternoon at the local parks and playgrounds or taking trips to nearby zoos, festivals, and museums. On Sundays, we go to Mass together and spend the afternoon with extended family or friends. Every month or two, my husband takes one child out for a morning or afternoon of one-on-one time.
My husband’s time with our children is limited, but he makes the most of it. He makes sure he is present, giving his children his undivided attention while they are together. My husband and I agreed before we had kids that he would make every effort to be present to our children. Even though he would be working while I stayed at home with our kids, he would make sure he always made time to bond with our kids. He would set aside time for each child one-on-one, in addition to the time we spent together as a family. We agreed that his work would not prevent him from being present with our children, for their day-to-day lives and their significant milestones.
Our choices have required sacrifices, but they have all been worthwhile.
Our children won’t care if we never make it to Disney World. They will remember that their dad was present for all the carnivals, trips to the beach, and amusement park visits.
Our kids won’t care that they only get a few gifts for Christmas and birthdays. They will remember their dad was always there for holidays and birthday parties.
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Our children won’t care if we never move into a bigger house or if most of their clothes will be secondhand. They will remember living in a home that was filled with laughter and joy, surrounded by the people who love them most.
I have a better understanding of why my dad chose to work all those hours even if it meant that he was rarely around.
He thought his choices were the best way to show his love for us. By giving us everything we wanted, he assumed we would feel loved by him. But I never did because he never gave me what I needed. I needed him to be present. I needed him to be there for me, but that meant I needed him to be there with me, which he rarely was.
I had everything I wanted but was lacking the one thing I really needed—the loving presence of my father.
Now that I understand my dad’s motives, I can forgive him, but his choices will have life-long consequences. I will always worry that my children won’t know just how much they are loved, but thankfully, I chose to marry a man who will love our children like my father couldn’t love me. I am sure our children will always know their father’s love for them, and I know that their memories of their dad will always be sweet.