When I was a little girl, I remember watching the TV show “Father Knows Best.” I wanted my dad to be like that TV dad – sweet, warm, affectionate, and kind. And I wanted to be daddy’s girl… but I wasn’t. Once, I remember seeing my father with his best friend’s children and I felt so jealous of the affection he gave them…wishing their experience was my own.
My dad was born in 1910, was 19 when the Great Depression started, and 29 when he signed up to serve in the Army. My parents met just before World War II and knew each other mostly through letters they wrote during those four years, marrying a few months after the war. Mom told me dad expressed his feelings in his letters but after they got married and he settled in, she knew he wasn’t a talker.
Dad served more than four years in Europe. When stationed in Italy, General Patton landed at Dad’s base. He came out to where my dad’s squad was working shirtless doing hard physical labor in 100+ degree weather. Patton commanded my dad to have his squad put on their shirts, and when my dad would not immediately obey, Patton was literally spitting in my dad’s face. Dad didn’t respond; he just stared back, ready to protect his men. It didn’t matter if he had to go toe-to-toe with one of the world’s most notable generals; he was ready to defy orders to ensure they didn’t have heat stroke.
Just as he protected his men in the military, dad made sure to take care of his family at home. Dad was a good provider, hard-working, never complaining, and a man of his word. He was usually quiet and self-contained, although when he laughed, his face lit up – a sight I always hold dear. Most nights, Dad would sit in his recliner, content to read a book and watch TV (especially golf) all evening, and never say a word.
However, as a young teen, if I needed to ask him a question, I would stand between his chair and the TV while he was reading, hoping to get his attention when he looked up to watch the TV. When he saw me, he would say “You make a better door than a window.” I knew he wanted me to get out of his way, yet my feelings were hurt. I felt like I was a “thing.” I wanted him to see me, I wanted to be heard.
In college, I majored in psychology and sociology, and had a revelation! Despite his ability to stand up to General Patton, my dad shied away from expressing love, seeing it as a sign of weakness. I realized that my dad was not only doing the best he could but doing it the best way he knew how!
With that understanding, I appreciated the relationship we had. If I called home, dad usually answered. I enjoyed our short chats before he would pass the phone to mom.
In my early 30s, I participated in a personal development program to explore a new career. I got that and so much more. During an exercise, the leader asked us to pick a relationship where we had resentment or disappointment. I immediately thought about my dad.
I was shocked! The resentment I thought I had released in college was still there. My unfulfilled, unrealistic expectations for Dad to be like that TV father had been buried, and blocking me from fully accepting the love he did offer. In fact, I was pushing him away and deflecting the way he loved me because he didn’t follow the script in my head.
At that moment, I was able to forgive my dad for not being the father I wanted, release my resentment, and accept him exactly the way he was.
For weeks after, I wanted to share with Dad the shift I had experienced when I called home, but every time, I stopped. I had forgiven him, but the truth was, he had done nothing wrong. He was just being himself. He didn’t need my forgiveness; it was my expectations that were the problem.
The Real Shift
What happened a few months later when I visited my parents for a week was unbelievable. One evening toward the end of the visit, I was in my old bedroom, sitting under the covers with work papers spread out on top.
As Dad came up the steps, he said gruffly, “The TV’s too loud!”
“Dad, would you mind turning it down, so I don’t have to mess up these papers?” I asked. He came in, lowered the volume, then started to walk out. Halfway out, he stopped with his back to me, and said clearly, “I love you.”
What?!? He often said “I love you” in response, but as an adult, I never remembered him saying it first until that moment.
Then he started walking out. “Dad! Wait!” I cried.
He turned around and I pointed to my cheek. “Kiss me here?” I opened my arms wide. He came over to my bed, leaned down, hugged me, and gave me a big kiss on the cheek. I whispered “I love you” with tears in my eyes.
Letting Love In
Even though I never said anything about forgiving him, my energy was different after I accepted him just as he was. Although my dad didn’t seem to be self-aware, he sensed that my energy had shifted to the Energy of Love and he stepped into that space. Finally, he felt safe expressing his love for me. It was the first time I really felt – and accepted – his love for me.
When nothing was blocking the love between us, I could be myself — fully expressed, loving, and funny. I started building the relationship I wanted with him and stopped waiting to be Daddy’s girl. I already was!
I invite you to think about someone important to you where you are disappointed. What if you got curious about what expectations you might have that are holding you back from fully expressing yourself? When we are interacting from the Energy of Love, the space between us opens up, and we can create deeper, more loving connections.