Our teenage daughter made a rare appearance in the living room at the same time my husband and I occupied it and announced her presence with words that dripped from her mouth like liquid gold off honeycomb. The sweetness in hearing, “Dad, can you help me with something?” satiates me completely.

I knew she sounded like sugar to her dad too when he responded, “Yeah, honey. What is it?” I can’t name anything more savory than a dad being a great dad so I lived my best life for a moment inside this sweet and salty conversation of theirs.

Our girl leaned over the back of the couch to hand her dad a printout of John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government. It’s written in a bit of ye ol’ back in the waaaaayy back in the day style and she was having trouble deciphering its meaning. “I can’t figure out what this is saying, Dad. Can you?”

For a split of a nano-second I was sad she didn’t ask me. I’m the wordsmith. I think and voice thousands upon thousands more words than her dad does each day. And I write that many more than he does too. Shouldn’t she have thought me her go-to, here? I heard some legalese though when her dad read aloud the passage giving her trouble and understood why she chose him, as he has an excellent command and understanding of the law. It also occurred to me I often complain loudly for all to hear, “I’m always the one doing ALL the things! Can’t you guys just ask your dad once in a while? Puh-leeez?” So I don’t dare let on how it can nip at my sensitive bravado when they actually do seek out him vs. me.

The feather’s weight of ick floated away and in its place, I felt awash in syrupy goodness. Moments like this carry me through the ebb and flow of life, loss, and longing in a way I’ve come to relish. They help me decide though I don’t have a dad, only ever an absentee father prior to him passing away many years ago, I have this girl and her brother and they have a dad and that’ll do. To this day, I still feel the sting of abandonment at times. I still wish I had a dad. But the fact that my kids’ father is never far from any of us soothes the burn and provides comfort.

When life serves us up instead of ideal, we suffer the bitter taste it leaves behind. But once we’ve had our fill of sour, it’s then we can bear down, invoke our highest grit factor, and begin to grope and stumble our way toward the things that wash acrid away. It’s love that helps me resolve any lingering rancor over being fatherless. Love works to smooth jagged edges in my psyche and my kids and their dad regularly give me a front-row seat to plenty of big love done in small ways. I walk on air for days after each tender display of love between them and in witnessing their interactions I’m blissfully reminded it’s always the little things that serve me the most.

Little things like watching a dad and his daughter lean in close, cheek to cheek to work together to puzzle something out. In response to this subtle display of love in action, my heart melted into a puddle of gooey adoration and grew a size at the same time.

Moments like these are made large for me and of high import because I can’t recall even one minute of time spent this way with my own dad. As a result, for as long as I can remember, my main goal in life has been to create a loving family and for my children to have a dad who will stay.

A dad who will show up when he’s needed.

A dad who will say yes when asked to help.

A dad they can count on.

Above all, a dad who will love them their whole lives through. 

This dad to my kids, he’s made mistakes though. Big ones. In being married to him for 22 years and in approaching failure a time or two, I’ve come to realize I have so little control over how he behaves, the choices he makes and whether or not he’ll stay married to me and present for our kids. So while an intact family has been my life’s main goal, I do realize I play just one role in our comedic-tragedy of a love story. My husband plays the other. And over the years, he’s flubbed lines, missed cues, even skipped whole performances. But so have I.

One season, we had to do a complete re-write of our entire script and try to begin anew. But through it all, my husband, my kids’ dad, has remained on the marquis. Because he loves us and he’s not afraid to say, “I really messed up. I’m so sorry. I will do better.” And of dire import, he means it. Nothing cuts this man as deep as when he understands he’s let me or our son or daughter down. He wears his obvious regret and palpable remorse like neon tattoo sleeves and can’t act like he doesn’t to save his soul.

It’s taken me years to discern just exactly what a good dad is; decades of chiseling away at layers of hurt and countless hours of sifting through damage and debris left by the dad I never had. So while at times I’ve wished my kids’ dad, my husband, had done better by us, it’s moments like this one spent on homework that remind me he is more than just still here. He’s still showing up for the important to the mundane. He continues to say yes, I can, I will, I do. He’s striving to get more right than he gets wrong. He’s being what a real dad, a good dad, must really be.

Seeing my kids and their dad together reminds me again and again there is always a way forward when life gives you instead of ideal. Even if sometimes it’s via the long way around.

You may also like: 

To My Hard-Working Husband, I See You

My Dear Daughters, This Is How You Should Be Treated—Love, Dad

Dear Husband, I Am So Grateful For You

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Jodie Utter

Jodie Utter is a freelance writer & creator of the blog, Utter Imperfection. She calls the Pacific Northwest home and shares it with her husband and two children. As an awkward dancer who’s tired of making dinner and can’t stay awake past nine, she flings her life wide open and tells her stories to connect pain to pain and struggle to struggle in hopes others will feel less alone inside their own stories and more at home in their hearts, minds, and relationships. You can connect with her on her blog, Utter Imperfection and on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter.