When I was 5 months old, the two people who conceived me sat in an office somewhere and signed away their rights to raise me. They opted out of the chances to hold me, comfort me and watch me grow. They gave up the opportunity to know me. I don't assume that was an easy decision to make, but they must have felt it was the right one. Whether or not they wanted influence in my life, their decision that day made a lasting impression.
If the story had ended there, it would have most likely been a tragic one. On days like this, I think about how grateful I am for the man who was under no obligation to be my father -- the man who chose me.
My father tells a story about the very first time he saw me. He says I looked up at him, and when our eyes met I smiled. That, he states, was the moment his heart decided I was his daughter. I pretend to be sick of the story almost every time he tells it. I even joke the smile was probably gas, but I will never get tired of hearing him tell it.
It's the story of my birth -- the story of the day I became me.
I love that story.
I have been an emotional person since the day I was born, and my father has always fancied logic. I have always respected his ability to think when the obvious reaction is to cry, but I have not always appreciated it. It made for some very interesting moments during my childhood, and some pretty volatile ones in my teen years. It wasn't easy.
I was not easy.
Of all the people in and out of my life the last 37 years, my father is the only person I've never worried would leave me.
I have struggled with abandonment issues my whole life in nearly every relationship, but never with him.
I cannot explain the bond I feel where he is concerned, or pinpoint the moment it started, and I have never questioned it. Perhaps the connection was mutual that day at the adoption agency. He has just always felt like my dad, and I have never felt anything but unconditional love from him; even when I was sure I didn't deserve it.
My father has seen me through many beautiful, terrifying and horrific moments. He is the person I call when sh*t hits the fan -- when I'm feeling overwhelmed and need help refocusing, or when I question my human abilities.
His is the voice in my head.
My father is the reason I got sober at age 22, and has always quietly motivated my desire to be a better person by holding me accountable. He had a front row seat for the, "I don't give a f**k" phase of my drinking career and tried to help me. However, after it became clear I was merely taking advantage of his kindnesses and attempting to anchor him to my misery, he kicked me out.
At the time, I was shocked and furious.
Over the years, I have come to regard my father's decision as my saving grace. It allowed me the freedom to dig my own grave and decide for myself that I wanted to live. It taught me that limits, edges and boundaries exist in love -- that just because people love me doesn't mean they must put up with my bad behavior. I'm grateful for those lessons, and appreciative of the fact that someone loved me enough to take action when I refused, even though it wasn't fun.
The decision to kick me out haunts my father to this day. Even though I've made it clear I wouldn't be where or who I am today if he hadn't -- it pains him.
Sometimes being a parent isn't about making sure our kids don't struggle, or giving them everything they want and keeping them happy. It's not about enforcing the distinct differences between right and wrong and then hovering to make sure they do what's right. Sometimes, being an incredible parent means setting an example, doing our best to instill the importance of accountability and integrity and then trusting in them -- in their strengths. Sometimes making the right choices for our kids means forfeiting comfort and control.
My father taught me these things. They are some of my most valued lessons.
When I stood head to head with my own teen-aged daughter years later, it was his example I leaned on. It was he who talked me through the treacherous months, while I argued and chased the hybrid version of myself, and the stagnating fear of letting her go.
This Father's Day week, I want to send gratitude into the universe for the man I get to call Dad. I want to thank him for every discomfort he experienced to offer me an opportunity to grow. Because that's what makes him wonderful.
I am so grateful my father chose me that day. We don't always get wonderful fathers, and I thank God every day that a wonderful man stepped up to be mine.
I support all fathers every day. However, this week I'd like to take a moment to shoot out some extra love and support to all the men who choose to step forward and fill the space where another has chosen to step back.
To all the stepfathers, adoptive fathers, foster dads and all other male guardians and father figures of women:
You will never understand how much she loves you and appreciates your presence in her life. You will never know how much your love saved her.
This blog post was originally published on Next Life, NO Kids.