My dad is my hero, yet I never dreamt of having a husband like my father. Because while dad is the first man in whose arms I slept, I learnt early on that he was & is mum’s him, not mine. But were it not for him, I would have known nothing about love.
Him. HIM. Him. I was to find him, the eternal happiness. Everyone seemed to think that a girl’s life was divided in two: the insignificant part before she meets him and the significant part afterwards, the defining moment in between being married. He was a mystery, and I was told that I'd find him with the aid of inklings from unexplainable powerful forces. At 30, I found him: my happy him.
Yet, ten years into my marriage, I find myself thinking a lot about the other him, my father, who unknowingly defined love for me, even when I went about saying that ‘I never dreamt of having a husband like him!’ Note to self: Send link to dad's WhatsApp when done writing this piece! :)
And so as Father’s Day vibes fill our timelines and hearts, I can’t help but wonder what it is about fathers and daughters that in the end, a love story of a girl can never be complete without a daddy.
The shoes are big to fill: his competition is Dad. Every little girl is ‘supposed’ to dream of having a husband like her father. A girl referring to Papa or Daddy as her husband is fairly common; every now and then a little one smiles and hugs her dad: “You're the best! Papa is my husband.” And then the mum would smile: it’s one of those sweet anecdotes oft repeated with pride to other mums on play dates.
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As for me, I don’t remember doing so, but I did tell everyone that my dad was a hero and I STILL do, he is my HERO. Then again, he isn't just my hero, he is my sister’s and mum’s too. And most importantly, he is mum’s him. And that didn’t lessen my love for him nor his for me. He is my dad, a hero, and nothing would change that. But as a child, I didn't dream, or talk about wanting to marry someone like my dad. So when a couple of weeks ago, one of my friends mentioned that her little one had voiced some 'anti-him-like dad' sentiments, I really wished I had the power to infiltrate the daughter’s mind to convey to the aunts on her behalf that she wasn't implying her father was a bad husband simply that her father was her father.
It may well be that little girls saying they'd like to marry daddy are looking to reassure: "I'll never leave you." They're too young to know they’ll have to leave daddy, for 'him'. In any event, I guess it's true that no girl wants to leave behind the experience of being tucked up in bed by dad every night. And yes, just like every girl out there, the first man in whose arms I slept is my dad.
I would curl up in his strong arms, his hand supporting my neck. The blanket would feel soft and his hands warm. He was never scared to hold me: I was never scared to be held. I was a premature baby, who pooped in his arms, cried endlessly for hours and was too weak to be hugged closely. Yet, each night, he managed to clean me up, hug me warmly and put me to sleep. He would watch me sleep, and in between he would get up to wash and iron my nappies.
But then I grew up, I had my own room, my own bed. My sister and I shared the space. Now, he would tuck us to bed, switch off the light and head to his room. But there were nights that I couldn’t sleep well, especially the nights before my Geography tests. I never understood the dynamics of the Westerlies: the prevailing winds in the middle latitudes between 30 and 60 degrees latitude, blowing from the high-pressure area in the horse latitudes towards the poles. On such disturbed windy nights, I would walk into my parents’ room and slip into the spot next to Dad. No questions asked he would carefully shift and make space for me. Years flew by, and my sister moved out of space first for higher education, then a job and later when she got married. I too followed suit. Our room was now an empty space, but my parents ensured it was always ready to have us.
When I found a job in my home city, I moved back into my room just like I had never left. The sheets were warm. I slept in my room, staying awake till unearthly hours. Dad would peep from the door. When I’d wake up I’d see the temperature of the air conditioning adjusted, a blanket keeping me warm and a water bottle filled up.
On many nights, we sat and watched the television together. We both always let each other watch our shows, taking turns. And then on some rare days, just when I would get up to go to my room to sleep, he would say, “Sleep here?”
Maybe, it was his Geography exam at work the next day.
I love him dearly, honestly and obsessively. But, I always knew that he is my mum’s love. I slept warmly in his arms, still do. Yes, even with my declaration of my love for him, my views of not wanting a ‘him’ like my dad weren't well received. Rather than statements like: ‘The first man I fell in love with was my dad’ and ‘I want to marry a man like daddy’, guaranteed to make audiences comprising girlfriends, aunts and cousins go ‘Awww…’ I'd say things like ‘My dad, he's a hero: handsome and adorable, a good package, I tell you! But please, no daddy husband for me!'
Why would I want a man who calls lavender 'pink' and watches the news for three hours each day? I mean, obviously, I’d like a husband to kiss me goodnight, and offer me shoulders and chocolate when I'm upset. I'm sure my mum could add to the list of pros and cons both! But why the comparison, why a clone, a copy? I wanted to find someone with the good of Dad, along with other good stuff. And I did find one.
But then Dad and I both knew that this was not a competition, it could never have been. We never said that out in the open but the day I walked to the wedding stage dressed up as a bride and my dad looked on I knew that the first chapter of my love tale had Dad’s name written all over it.
Dad didn’t say I looked pretty or all grown-up, he just stood in a corner and smiled, a tiny smile, that would have been easy to miss but I had grown up with this man and I knew what the smile meant. My eyes lit up too. His little girl’s wedding was beautiful just as he’d wanted it to be.
The next morning, when I woke up in my new world, happy and anxious, I received a text message from Dad it said: Love you, Papa. And just like that I knew why no one could have ever come between our love: this was between a daughter and a father. And to date, I look at my husband and say, “For the role of 'him', dad isn't a contender. But for the role of dad, he is easily the best candidate.”
Love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day to you.