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The Trouble with Fathers
by Malda Smadi
We have such complicated relationships with our fathers. Where there’s respect, love, and support, there’s also fear, anger, and longing for so many things. And the older I got the more pronounced my “daddy issues” have become, but this year has been an important one for me - reestablishing a relationship with my father, as a woman.
There was the whole baggage of my father leaving home years ago and inside this baggage was sudden independence and responsibility, worrying about the future constantly, and deeply longing for a father figure to come back and save the day. And meanwhile, I was growing up reconciling my past with my present and with what would transpire in my future self, and now fast-forward nine years and into my 30th year, I finally found the courage to present myself to my father as the grown up that I had become.
The moments I cherish the most with my father were hearing his voice deep in conversation, going on and on about the history and geography of everything. When I was younger I would tire easily and be swayed by the displeased reactions of my older siblings who had little patience for his lectures. But as I grew, I found solace and security in his words. How could you not trust a person who knew everything? I would ask my questions and through them I would begin to reveal my thoughts and opinions, slowly revealing myself and the woman I turned out to be. I was no longer a child being buried by all his ideologies. And the best thing about having a philosopher for a father was being able to discuss abstract thoughts endlessly that were always backed up by facts. This year we talked about my passion projects, my ending up unmarried and his blessings on my choices which I understood through his silent nods.
He finally visited us so many years later, a day I must have dreamed about every day since. The places I would take him, the food we would eat, the topics we would discuss. I later realized how desperately I wanted him to be present in my present self. Not as the teenager who lied about her life, or who had a curfew, or who had no idea who she was. I welcomed him into my grown-up room, the room where my paintings and sculptures of nude women were hanging on my walls. I uncovered more and more of my tattoos and where I expected a look of disapproval, I was met with absolutely nothing. Is this what it feels to be an adult? Being offered a cigarette by him out of the blue? Yes, I’ll have one!
On our way to the airport my heart was ready to burst. I could feel the tension all around us and knew I would cry just as how I’d imagined for days leading up to his leaving. I really did not want to cry. And he really did not want any of us to drop him to the airport... except for me. And as we stepped out of the car and he took me by his fatherly hands and arms and kissed my forehead, I went in for the hug like a small child engulfed by this big figure, my face on its side, eyes and mouth tightly sealed shut. No words were said. Only water puddles filling up my eyes before finally dropping. I couldn’t remember the last time I tried to catch my breath sobbing.
When my nude art started gaining more and more exposure, he was in between pride and concern. But what drew the line was his daughter publicly expressing more of herself, her relationship with her body and her personal ideology towards nudity. With all the longing for his approval, I neglected to mention what drew the line before that, and it was my wanting for independence and leaving home at 29, which was met by a fury of ‘my daughter will only leave her family home to go directly to her husband’s home! And that’s it!’ And that was that.
But where is my line? Between maintaining the peace and claiming my identity? How do I become me when I am so attached to him? When I’m still trying to gain back a sense of normalcy after the many months, years and distance that had passed between us. When you’re living away from a family member, there is no daily interaction, no gradual growth. When you finally see them again it’s always about lightly sprinkling small doses of reality without getting into a fight, because you only have each other for another day or two. You’re met with dread every time you think of bringing up a new “concern” because having conversations over Whatsapp and Skype with a Boomer whose first reaction to anything is a 'no' is really not the most productive. So I’ve learned to keep living my truth away from his eyes and ears, sweeping things out of the way and only lightly sprinkling them here and there only when needed. Us children have learned the nuances of parents that don’t get it and how to navigate them. Us daughters have learned the nuances of fathers that don’t accept it and how to navigate them.
But the trouble with fathers is the tension of having a little girl in this world. Assuming the role of protector and benefactor while trying to understand feelings and emotions in a new dimension that’s emerging from their own bloodline. Suddenly feelings and emotions matter when their daughter is slamming doors and answering back. When what was once a straight forward act of discipline or control to keep her out of trouble becomes a protest for her rights and freedom down to a slippery slope of losing your grip on her for good. When one is in search for a new identity, the other is helplessly losing the old one.