My dad, with his East Coast mannerisms, obvious accent, dry sense of humor, and uninhibited foul mouth has always stood out among our small town community. He could make anyone laugh and could make a joke out of anything. His use of words such as “pocket book” and “soda” made me giggle every time I heard them. No one else I knew ever used words like that. He had a love for gigantic Cadillacs, Italian food, and the ocean. He was calm and always willing to help out others when they needed it. These ingrained habits and personal likes always made me feel as if I had such a unique dad compared to all of my friends’ fathers.
I have always secretly adored my dad. To me, he was what a father and a man should be. He took care of us, and nothing in the world made me feel safer than being near him. Above all, he was the strongest person I knew, emotionally and physically. Unfortunately, my dad was also the most unaffectionate person I have ever met. Never a hug, never a kiss, and never do I recall him saying I love you. I knew my dad loved me. He showed it through toys, vacations, and food. When my family would take a vacation, I would not leave his side. I felt safe and happy next to my dad, and he was fun to be around. My father had a hard time telling me “no.” If I wanted a Barbie doll or another candy bar, I would simply state my case, explain the importance of why I needed the doll or candy, and I always seemed to convince him. For my dad, buying me things seemed to replace the lack of emotion he was able to display toward me. As a child, this was the greatest thing in the world, but it instilled in me an emotional discomfort that I still struggle with today.
Because the words I love you were never spoken by my father, I knew at an early age that emotions made my dad uncomfortable. I watched my friends tell their fathers they loved them without thought or hesitation. As an attempt to connect with my dad and express my love for him, I met him at the stairs one evening as he was leaving. I said goodbye to him and followed up with “I love you.” I wanted it to be the natural display of affection that I had seen among my friends and their fathers. He paused for a moment, with a look upon his face of both confusion and discomfort and replied “I love you too.” Because I was a child, I internalized this as a situation that made him uneasy therefore I should refrain from verbalizing those words. Although I never said I love you to my dad again after that night, I still felt his affection for me through his actions.
My dad spoiled me with food; that is how he showed his love. Therefore, I never questioned his feelings toward me. We bonded through eating. It was an unspoken closeness between us. On the nights when my dad was not able to leave work early enough to eat dinner with us, his food would be stored away awaiting his arrival. When he finally got home and was able to enjoy a reheated meal, I would join him in the kitchen. I would share his food with him, but more importantly, I would share time with him. We did not always say much. He was tired from working a ten hour day, and I was still recovering from my last meal, but we were together. We would sit at the kitchen table, just the two of us, and enjoy the dinner leftovers. Occasionally I would discuss the daily events of my school day as he sat quietly listening to the drama that afflicts the heart of a third grader. As he finished his dinner, and I finished what he did not eat, I would follow him down the hall and wait patiently in my bedroom while he took a shower so we could watch a movie or play a game.
As I grew up and became an adult, I began to observe the flaws and negative qualities my dad conveyed. He became human to me and at times was my worst enemy. He was stubborn and believed that he was right in his thinking without listening to another point of view. We were hostile toward each other; perhaps because we were so much alike. There were even periods of time, as I began living my own life, that I had little communication with him. I was working, or I had some boyfriend demanding my time. I had lost the once close, yet emotionally vapid, relationship I had with him, but if I needed his help he was there.
When I got married, my dad would often say how relieved he was because he no longer had to take care of me; I found someone else who could do it for him. He would laugh while saying this, but there was truth to it. He had always helped me out with money and tried to fix any problem I had. Now, he would say, that responsibility was being turned over to someone else. I believed this too. I believed that I had found someone who would be a source of strength, who I could admire the way I had always admired my dad. Although my dad was unaffectionate with me, both verbally and physically, I admired what I saw as an inner and outer strength that he possessed.
It has always amazed me how out of the worst moments come the biggest blessings. Two years ago I was in a difficult place in my life, to say the least. I knew my marriage was in trouble, which demanded the majority of my energy, and I was nervously awaiting my uncertain future. On a mild mid-July afternoon I was driving home, blinded by tears. I had just lost faith in the only man, besides my dad, who I had ever believed in. I was in shock, devastated, and heartbroken. I was supposed to meet my dad for lunch that afternoon. I called him to tell him I wouldn’t be making it to what had become “our weekly lunch date.” He answered when I called with the snide remark, “Are you calling about your free meal?” I couldn’t pretend to laugh, and I quickly broke down. “Lance cheated on me,” I cried into the phone. I did not think about how uncomfortable this might make him, because he was unemotional, or how we had never seen one another cry, because in that moment, I was his daughter, he was my dad, and I was in pain.
As the months went on and my marriage slowly dissipated, my dad and I became closer than we had ever been throughout my entire adult life. He was unable to tell me that it hurt him to see me in so much pain, that he wanted to take it all always and watch as a smile replaced the tears. He did not know how to say these things, and because of the unemotional relationship we had, I would not know how to respond. He tried to lift the heavy burden off of me by buying me material things in the hope that it would make me happy. He would bring me food so that we could share in the experience of eating, like we did when I was a kid. This was his way of saying I love you, and I knew that.
Last year for Christmas, my dad and I got together for dinner. I got him a card thanking him for all of the things that he had done for me, especially during that time. In the card, I wrote I love you. Those words still made me nervous, and I hated that they did. I sat there thinking, why can’t I tell this man I love him? I have told boyfriends, my husband, but I can’t tell my father. He read the card carefully and responded with “I feel the same way.” I couldn’t understand why for so many years my dad could not speak those words to me, but all that mattered was that he knew that I loved him for what he did and always had done.
Amanda Felice is a resident of Platte City, Missouri. She is currently a composition instructor at Missouri Western State University in Saint Joseph. She has a master’s degree in Written Communication and a B.A. in English Literature. Some of the writings that she has published include poetry, nonfiction, and research studies. Two of her biggest passions are writing and teaching. Fortunately, she gets to combine these two in her composition classroom.
© 2013, Amanda Felice