‘Dad, I’m moving out’
One of the scariest things I have ever pushed myself to do is sit my father down and ask him to let me move out of his house and into an apartment with my best friend. It wasn’t the living-on-my-own part that frightened me; rather, it was the potentially catastrophic, volcanic eruption of anger and disappointment from him.
But what happened was worse: He began to tear up. When the man you have looked up to since you were a child, the man who maintains this unbreakable protective exterior under which you can’t help but take cover, breaks into tears—speechless, I might add, for about 10 straight minutes—it breaks you even more.
According to Jim Coleman, resource speaker and father of four girls, the first rule in father-daughter relationships is that fathers wound their daughters. The second rule is that you cannot change the first rule. He means to say that fathers will make decisions, whether with too much love or too little, that will affect their daughters throughout their lifetime.
Observing it closely, I see that there is some sort of rite of passage that a daughter goes through: from complete awe of and dependence on her father to self-doubt, to recognition of disillusionment, to initial dynamic friction, before outright rebellion, and then finally detachment.
A father’s opinion possesses a unique weight. Everything he says and does is amplified or even glorified in a little girl’s mind. I can’t help it. That’s what happens when you’re daddy’s little girl.
My father seemed to enjoy my dependence on him, and in fact still does at times, and though I would never have admitted it back then, I quite delighted in being (for lack of a better term) the spoiled youngest of four girls. With much pride, I grew up claiming that “I am my father’s daughter” as if it were a golden ticket, an easy pass, and I could get through absolutely anything and beat absolutely anyone. Confidence is great, but I bordered on being cocky.
Then I grew up, as little girls do. I woke up and I was 23, and suddenly I could see the little chinks in my father’s armor that I had never noticed before. My peers went on with their lives, and not surprisingly I realized how behind I was in terms of strength of character, and how much I needed to catch up. Needless to say, gaining countless failures shattered my disillusionment. My father was not infallible, after all. I was not invincible, after all. I was a weak small fish in a very big ocean. I grudgingly accepted that I had much to learn. My father’s achievements were not mine. His properties were not mine. His history was not mine.
Predictably, my initial course of action was to “blame thy parents.” But as daughters get old, so do excuses, and there was nothing left to do but change. Adapt. Claim something that’s mine.
Fathers are strong and firm, but I have to admit it is funny how a daughter can dismantle them, most of the time unknowingly. Maybe I was still in my rebellion phase, but leaving my father’s house was a melodramatic, quite literal, and quite necessary breakaway. This was normal. This was inevitable.
Fathers, therefore, must prepare for its coming. They are normally preprogrammed to fear their daughter’s capability to think and choose for herself, to materially provide, and provide even more, and to pave a way usually not of her choosing because of some self-serving intention to perpetuate their legacy. They shouldn’t.
They should be a provider, give enough of the material things, but never put a limit to communication and support. As little girls get older, we realize that these are things that build value through time, not things that turn into clutter and eventually are thrown out. They should provide with the primary motive of equipping her to fight on her own, and protect with the primary purpose of fortifying her character so she can protect herself. They should be careful of their expectations and words because these can either build the potential of a daughter to be creative, organic and genuine—or break her.
We are our fathers’ daughters, but they shouldn’t forget that they are their daughters’ fathers, too.
I personally recommend that a daughter smoothly fly out of her father’s nest. In my case, it let me define my own success and independence. Nonetheless, we should thank parents for our difficulty because when we come out of it, we will be stronger and our own person. We must accept our parents’ imperfections because only through this can we fully come to terms with our own “chinks.”
But after detachment, there is one final and most critical stage, which I am relieved to have surpassed: redefining and rebuilding the father-daughter dynamic. Without this, it will be limbo-like—prolonged unfinished business, festering expectations, disappointments, hate and distance. This is what we daughters must be wary of most of all. Break away, but don’t forget to come back and build something better.
Chiara U. Mesiona, 25, is an entrepreneur. She owns Tea’amo Cafe.
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