Father’s Day: Signs of a job well done

On this day, and every day, I celebrate my first love. My best friend and biggest supporter. The person who gave me life and through his example, taught me the meaning of it. My dad.

Growing up, I was always younger than everyone in my class by at least a year. At the time, I hated it. I was embarrassed on my birthdays when my classmates would ask how old I was turning, and inevitably, expressed their shock at how much of a “baby” I was. I know, of course, that in the grand scheme of things this is not something I should have cared much about, but middle school kids are the worst and they never failed to make me feel self-conscious about being the youngest.

My dad had an especially tricky job in raising me, in my opinion, because he had to put aside his instinct to protect his only daughter while giving her the space to mature at the same pace as her older classmates.

For example, when 14-year old me was asked to go to the senior prom while still a sophomore in high school, it took some negotiating, but he eventually allowed it — with conditions.

When 16-year old me wanted to attend college in a different state, 5 hours from him, he found a way to make it happen.

A few years later when 18-year old me wanted to spend a month backpacking in France and Italy, mostly alone, he offered to pay for a private bodyguard to accompany me (and would have done it too, had I let him!).

And then, a few months after I turned 20, I finished college and faced a turning point: stay in the U.S. or move to Paris for graduate school. I think you know which one I chose, and my dad didn’t bat an eye.

In all of these decisions, he never once tried to discourage me or put doubt in my mind that perhaps I was making the wrong choice. In fact, he did just the opposite — every chance he got, he made sure to tell me that I could do anything I put my mind to, that the sky was the limit and that I was destined for great things. He said it with such conviction that these notions became ingrained in me, a quiet confidence sewn into every one of my cells.

Even when his heart was breaking at the idea of me being so far away, even when he was terrified of the unknown and feeling vulnerable due to the distance between us, he put my dreams ahead of his fears, always.

He showed me that being a good parent meant giving your full attention and being present during critical moments. For example, when my parents separated and he moved into his own place, I was 18 and off at college. When I came home for the first time after their separation, he wanted to make sure I felt as comfortable as possible in his new townhouse, so he took some time off work to paint my bedroom the same Jamaican Blue color that I had chosen for my room in college. He found similar furniture and bought an enormous print of the Parisian skyline to hang above my bed, because even back then I was already in love with France. This quiet act of love is just one of thousands that he showed me, and still shows me, every day of my life.

Even after a long day at work, he would jump at the chance to drive to the pharmacy late at night if I had the slightest discomfort. He attended my ice-skating lessons, cheerleading competitions (yes, that was another embarrassing phase of my past, but he was always there!), horseback riding adventures, the list goes on.

No matter what happened, I could always count on him — to support me, to listen to me, to give me advice, to keep me safe. He was never too busy or too tired to spend time with me, and I can’t imagine a better gift than that.

More than a decade after I first packed up my things and moved out of my parents’ house for college, the stars aligned and I met the person who would make me feel, once again, like I was home.

I found the guy who jumps at the chance to go to the pharmacy late at night if I have the slightest discomfort. I found the guy who volunteers on the weekends with me, even when his work schedule is exhausting and he might prefer to just relax. I found the guy who encourages me to run together in the park when I’m feeling unmotivated, and who builds planters on our terrace because he wants me to be surrounded by beautiful things. I found the guy who understands my endless, bordering on ridiculous love for our two cats and who doesn’t think I’m a complete nutjob when I spend way too much money on a 3-story cat castle for them.

In my heart, I know I found this guy because my first love, my dad, showed me what I deserved — and that I should accept nothing less. And now, after nearly three decades of life, I am glad to let this new love step in and guide me, protect me and hold my hand as we experience all of life’s ups and downs together. But I also smile, knowing that had he not been there, I would be perfectly capable of guiding and protecting myself.

And that, my friends, is the sign of a job well done.

Dad, I know I tell you all the time, but on Father’s Day I have an official excuse to say that being chosen as your daughter was the best moment of luck that the universe has bestowed upon me, and that I am endlessly thankful for your quiet sacrifices over the past 30 years. I can never repay you for all that you’ve done for me, but I hope that someday I can pay it forward when I, too, become a parent. I love you more than all the words in all the languages. Happy Father’s Day.

Sharing stories of humanity, family and my journey working with marginalized groups. Hoping to help conquer xenophobia with radical compassion.