Today is my dad's 83rd birthday, and I am so lucky to be able to celebrate with him. We'll do what we both like to do most -- go out to lunch together (with my mom, too, of course!) and spend a couple of hours talking about my kids, politics, movies, StyleSubstanceSoul, the Yankees, whatever's happening in the news, and more about my kids.
I'm proud to admit I'm a daddy's girl. Although I've now been with my husband almost twice as long as I lived with my dad, my dad was the first important man in my life -- the one who set the tone, the one every other guy had to live up to. "You are your father's daughter," my mother always sighed as I was growing up. At those times, I raised my eyebrow and gave her that look -- especially since she tended to say it when I was being stubborn or opinionated or unwilling to give up fighting for something I wanted. Now, I simply smile and say, "Thank you."
My father taught me everything from riding a bike to doing the dead man's float. We played grocery store on the living room floor so I could practice addition and subtraction, perfected the box step (with me standing on his feet) at the Campfire Girls father/daughter dance, and pulled the lever together in the voting booth. He also taught me how to drive, but those lessons were not our finest moments. By the time we stomped, separately, back into the house, we'd no longer be talking to each other -- much to my mom's amusement.
Other lessons came more naturally. My dad instilled a deep love of reading and music in me, for which I will always be grateful. I smile when I see how happy a beautiful song can make him feel or how excited he gets when quoting from a book that moved him in some way -- because I feel the same way, and can't imagine a life without books and music. Most of all, he taught me -- by example, not lecture -- what it means to be a good person.
There is no one more honest or fair than my father, which made him a lifelong friend to the boys he grew up with on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and both a beloved high school history teacher and assistant principal. He may not embrace change easily -- we still tease him about his reluctance to get a cell phone, computer or DVR -- but he is completely open-minded about people, and is a true champion for human rights. He donates to all kinds of non-profit organizations, is genuinely interested in what others have to say, and he listens.
Because he's such a good listener, he's always made me feel that what I'm saying is important -- at least to him. And because of that, he's always made me feel that I'm important. There's no greater gift than that.
"Fathers are their daughters' first experience of male love, compassion, kindness, anger and cruelty," says Dr. Meg Meeker in her book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. "These early experiences are imprinted on a girl's brain and heart. For the rest of her life, every experience she has with a male is filtered through her experiences with her father."
My experiences with my father taught me that there's nothing more valuable than family, that a sense of humor is vital, and that I can do anything. So, although my dad would unquestionably have acted like Papa Bear if the situation warranted it, he never really had to because I had too much self-respect to waste my time with guys who didn't treat me the way he had shown me I deserved. He had already set the bar -- high -- for the kind of man I'd choose to spend my life with. That man showed up during my sophomore year of college in the form of Michael, whose personality was nothing like my father's -- but who shared his integrity, his passion, his generosity, his strong work ethic, his love of laughter and his gigantic heart. We'll be married 30 years this summer.
I always felt bad that, with two daughters, my dad was the odd one out -- although he never seemed anything other than proud of his three girls. He would encourage my mom, my sister and I to have our girl time and, for the past few years, he's even sent us off on an annual spa weekend for all of our January birthdays.
Having pretty much perfected the role of father, it was easy for my dad to transfer those skills when we added a "grand" in front of his title. He has made each of his four grandchildren (three of whom are boys, so he's never again had to go to the restroom or fitting room alone) feel as special as he did his daughters, and they have returned the feeling, always eager to spend time with him, with the older two still calling him from college just to catch up.
Being a daddy's girl has gotten a bad rap over the years but, based on Dr. Meeker's findings, it's really what every father should aim to make their daughters. That doesn't mean spoiling them rotten or turning them into princesses. Rather, it means encouraging them to reach for the stars because they know their dad is there to hold the ladder, catch them if they fall and love them no matter what.
Yes, I am a daddy's girl. But I'm most proud that I'm my daddy's girl.