The name “Big Al” lit up my phone, laying face up on the conference room table at work. There was no text, just a picture of my Dad’s laptop logging on to my school/workplace’s Wi-Fi.
I smiled and shook my head; that’s how Big Al rolls. (Into town without notice.)
As soon as my meeting ended, I walked as fast as I could (while retaining some amount of dignity) to find him sitting outside of the campus coffee shop, smiling at me mischievously, proud of himself for pulling off such a surprise.
“Pops,” I said into his chest as he wrapped me in a hug, taking in the smell of his cologne.
“Big Sis,” he replied, laughing, using the nickname given to me as a child around the time Kate came in the world and made me a big sister.
My Dad and I are pals—we talk on the phone almost everyday to make up for the thousand miles of California coastline between us. We’re made from the same kind of fire, he and I. I’ve got his eyes and stubborn streak, the shape of his nose and affinity for big picture thinking. He’s where I get my love of words and grand gestures, as well as my lack of patience and weird feet.
Throughout my childhood, people asked me, “So you’re a Daddy’s girl, huh?”
I love my Dad with everything in me; he’s my role model, my confidante, my Pops. But the phrase “Daddy’s girl” has always conjured up images in my mind of a girl who has her Dad wrapped around her little finger.
A girl who, with one puppy dog look can procure his check book or car keys, a girl who has been shielded from getting her hands dirty or anything resembling a consequence. I hear expectant fathers joke about how their little girl is “going to be able to get away with anything” or how they need to “invest in a shotgun”, as if they already know their daughters are going to possess supreme powers of manipulation, as well as have terrible taste in men.
But Kate and I were never treated like delicate flowers or damsels in distress. When my sister and I messed up, there were consequences. When there were hard conversations to be had, we were expected to have them. We weren’t infantilized into thinking we didn’t have what it took to make our way in the world, to slay our own dragons and dream (and accomplish) our dreams.
I have never, for a single moment, had that man “wrapped around my finger”.
My Dad believed us to be capable, discerning, intelligent, and strong, and so it was only natural that we grew to believe those things about ourselves, too.
Don’t get me wrong—my Dad would stand in front of an oncoming train for me or my sister. He’s worked hard, harder than I’ll probably ever know, to provide us with everything we’ve needed to become happy, healthy, well adjusted adults. Believing in us did not come at the expense of parental tenderness or care. He’s rescued me when I’ve need rescuing, but never on the grounds of my ineptitude.
Looking back, I can see how so much of what my sister and I believe about ourselves as women, we picked up through my Dad’s relationship with my Mom. My Mom was (and is) his partner—not his assistant or his ward. He listens to and respects her, deeply valuing the work she puts into making our lives and family what they are. She’s not there for decoration, or to be the supporting character in a story centering around him.
No, they are partners, each helping the other become more fully themselves through sacrifices big and small. They have different gifts and strengths, and have learned how to lean into each in times or areas of weakness. He’s better because of what he learns from watching and loving her, and she’s better because of what she’s learned from loving and watching him. She needs him, absolutely, but he needs her just as much.
I’m my Dad’s girl, to be sure. But I don’t think I’m a “Daddy’s girl”.
Because instead of being a checkbook or a shotgun that keeps me forever a child, my Dad is the catapult launching me into all that I’m meant to do and be.