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Monday, January 04, 2010

Had a Dad, Part IV

When I was five I wanted to marry my dad. I look back on that now and in addition to the thoughts anyone might have meditating on such a memory (Wow, how cute. Wow, how weird.), I think “How the hell did we get here from there?” How could I have been so uncomplicatedly, unambiguously affirming of my dad then, and how did things get so complicated, so ambiguous, so absolutely not affirmative?

Maybe every kid adores their dad at five. When I was five I figured out that everyone pretty much has to get married, and that girls have to marry boys. I know now that neither of those things are true, but at five that’s what the world I was busy figuring out told me. This was bad news. The idea of marrying a boy did not appeal to me, not at all. I recall wracking my young brain for a boy I’d be willing to marry, and none of the boys I knew qualified. Then it occurred to me that my dad was a boy. What a relief: I’d just marry him. I told him about my plan as we were driving west on North Shore Avenue in his big gold Buick, before it got the dent in the front left fender. He smiled and told me he loved me very much but that girls can’t marry their daddies. I’m sure I asked why and I’m sure he explained it somehow, though I don’t recall his explanation. But I do remember that as we talked about it, he figured out what inspired my idea, and he told me that someday I’d probably like boys better than I did right then. And I recall vividly that he said, “And, E., if you don’t want to get married, you don’t have to.” What a relief.

And what a great dad. This was classic Daddy. He listened to me. He did not laugh at me. He took my thoughts, my worries, my hopes seriously. He always seemed to find a way to explain things that helped me make sense of the confusing and sometimes frightening world of grown-ups. People often romanticize childhood, and though I had a happy childhood, I don’t look back on it wistfully, wishing I could return. A big part of childhood was getting in trouble for breaking rules I had no idea existed. My teachers, my grandparents, my babysitters were always taking me to task for doing something that no one had yet informed me was wrong. My dad didn’t do this. He seemed to have a very clear sense of what I knew already and should be held responsible for and what I didn’t know and should be taught before I was scolded. And he erred on the side of teaching me something I already knew a second time rather than scolding me for something I didn’t know was wrong.

But five is a pretty easy age, as far as a daughter adoring a dad goes. It’s probably not that hard to be a great dad to the kind of affectionate, obedient, and cute five-year-old I was. The fact that I still adored my dad in an unambiguous and uncomplicated way when I was eleven is perhaps more remarkable.

And that is where I will begin next time.

3 Comments:

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2:39 PM  

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