“All right now, hold my hand real tight, don’t let go until you know when.” Dad peered down from his dusty baseball cap marked 88 and gripped my hands in his big bear palm. From my tiny viewpoint, the world was blanketed by the nighttime sky and littered in stars. Dad’s smile lit my heart, and at once, I released my faith and threw back my head, revealing a deep, belly laugh.
“Anda- one, anda-two, anda-three!” Dad swung me higher and higher, until the third count, when he released me and I soared, just for a few seconds, like a superhero amongst the crowds of blurry faces who were scattered amongst the bleachers. It was race night, and like every other Saturday, it was our time; we didn’t get to see each other often, but when we did, time stopped and life became precious.
I hit the rocky ground on both legs safely with a resounding “thud,” and, although shocked, I quickly dusted myself off and turned to face the one person who I knew would be right behind me. “That’s my girl! Didn’t think I’d let you down, did ya?” Dad swept me up in his arms and carried me back to the bleachers, as all fear of the unknown faded away.
My dad has always been my hero, whether or not he truly knows it. In my eyes, I couldn’t tell him enough. And when it comes to my relationships I’ve learned a lot through my biggest one: the one with my father. He’s taught me so much about what it means to love people for who they are on the inside, to see beyond the exterior package. The obvious is not what we see, it is what we choose to get to know about someone that makes them beautiful. Growing up in a small, country, two-bedroom home that raised over twenty children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Dad learned early the value of staying close and loving through it all. As I went through my struggles, he not only taught those to me, he showed them, too.
I’ve learned what it means to let go and allow love in. What it means to heal. For most of my life I shut myself off to love and used relationships as a way to abuse myself and others, long after my abusers left. Dad has always been there, in the background, offering advice and encouragement in his own kind way. The faith that he instilled in me as a child has slowly grown over time, and without his care, I don’t know where I’d be. At thirty and through two marriages, I can’t deny the huge role that his stability has played.
I finally know what it means to love myself. Although this one, like every relationship, is one that is a constant work in progress, the love I have for myself is mirrored by the love Dad has for himself. As we’ve grown and constructed healthier lives, our self-images have been strengthened. My dad has a much better image of himself than he used to, especially when I was living in the depths of my eating disorders. A perfectionist at my core, Dad’s voice was always in the back of my mind whispering, “You don’t have to be perfect for someone to love you.” When I was at one of the lowest points in my life at eighteen and attempted suicide, I never imagined that I could flourish and get to the place of contentment that I am in now.
Because of our relationship, I’ve learned what I want in a partner, and what I don’t want, the latter through my own trials and errors. I learned that I want someone faithful, loving, and kind. A person who looks past the obvious; someone who sees my soul. And just like Dad, someone who is always there to catch me when I fall.