My earliest memory involves my dad.
In the memory, I am standing outside of my house in Cleveland, Ohio, on our lawn. I’m hurt and petulant about a dust-up with my across-the-street neighbor that ended in mutual bite marks.
My father gently encourages me to mend the fence when my playmate offers me an orange creamsicle as a peace offering.
I remember his kind assurances, and warm arm around my waist.
I refuse the peace offering – as my mouth waters and I imagine the golden creamy taste in my mouth.
But my father does not push me. He does not laugh, either.
He just accepts my stand and, probably, smiles sweetly.
* * * *
My dad recently told a dear friend of mine, in a conversation they were having about parenting, that he always thought I was a perfect child.
I was not a perfect child.
But I tried very hard to be.
I tried very hard to be sweet and quiet and peace-loving and encouraging and diligent and a great student and a good athlete. I was persistent and dedicated about my role in my family and I even gave thoughtful effort to holding my own space in my family. I wanted my presence and perspective as the only girl to be seen, to be understood, and to impact the men around me.
I did mess all that up at times, of course: Mostly by being very emotional and too tender and by allowing my temper to get the best of me.
I did bad things, too. Normal stuff and mild stuff. Stuff that made my Dad mad, and things he had to come to the rescue on.
Yet, some 22 years since my most rebellious times, my dad still holds to the idea I was perfect.
* * * *
It’s a miracle of life that when you have children, you have had no experience being a parent and you have no idea what you are doing.
The miracle part is that you do it anyway. You manage to learn on the job, and become better and better at it.
Even though I had great parents myself, the idea of becoming a parent terrified me.
Until I held 6 pounds and 8 ounces of my firstborn daughter in my arms, I was really, really scared of being a parent. Always slow to make a decision, it was the biggest, most irreversible thing I had ever done.
My husband didn’t seem a lick scared.
If he was, he never let on.
Even before our baby girl was born, his parenting energy was all confidence and excitement.
He has been the best father since before that day, and from that day, on.
Whenever I have been at a loss for what to do as the official source of parental guidance for these incredible humans entrusted to us, I tune into his instinct, into his love for them, and dive into his insight and huge heart, to determine the way.
In the last few years, I’ve witnessed such a beautiful evolution in his parenting of our children. He’s gone from the protective and possessive father of young children to a dad as comfortable joking with them as he is laying down the law on the things that matter.
In return, they have an abundant tenderness for him, and a trust in his love and strength that melts my heart and reminds me deeply of how I feel about my own father.
Isn’t that something? Another surprise gift of parenting.
The gift that sometimes, the halcyon, never-ending chain of love that began in the hearts of two lovers, two parents, can pass down in the love of a father to a child, who grows nurtured by perfect love, and one day finds love of her own, with a husband, a whole man, and then has a child, who is loved and adored as she was – in a way her father once did.
There are not many cycles in life that illustrate as much complete and pure beauty, as much smoothly realized potential as that.
This is the highest blessing of fatherhood. This is the fruit of men who dare to show the gentle and powerful among them, alike, the strongest and most vulnerable versions of themselves.