I realized on my walk this morning that, during the course of our daughter’s illness, I was afforded a very unique privilege – one that (thankfully) few fathers will ever experience – namely, the chance to listen as hundreds of women, young and old, openly shared their pain and the innermost longings of their hearts – and listen I did. I say “thankfully” not because I don’t wish every father and every “father-to-be” couldn’t be similarly gifted – I do; but rather because, at the time of the sharing, most of those hearts were momentarily trapped in bodies ravaged by eating disorders – a circumstance that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Still, it occurs to me that with that privilege comes responsibility, in this case to share some of what I learned, sensitive, of course, to the boundaries of confidentiality, because my sense is that most dads have never heard their daughter share these sentiments in words:
Your daughter adores you.
She has placed you on the highest of pedestals.
In her eyes, you are mostly infallible.
To her, you are almost superhumanly capable and unusually reliable.
She greatly admires your “competency” and the fact that you always seem to have things in control.
She trusts you.
Because she does, she listens attentively to the words you say to (and about) her, her mother and other women and she uses those words in formulating beliefs about herself and the things you (and other men) value about her and women in general.
She wants to spend more time with you and for you to be “fully present” when the two of you are together.
There are few things in life she wants more than to know (by hearing you say it) that you love her and are proud of her.
One of those “things” is to avoid disappointing you.
How powerful is that last point? You tell me: Several years ago, at the height of our daughter’s illness (i.e., when her life was quite literally hanging in the balance), my wife and I attended “family week” at a prominent residential treatment facility out West. Neither of us had seen Ashley in several weeks. A few days into the program, the parents were invited to share a meal (lunch) with their loved one. As the noon hour approached, tears began to silently stream down Ashley’s face. She politely asked me if she could “talk to her mom alone” and I left the room. Minutes later, Cyndy came out. When I asked “what the tears were all about,” I was stopped in my tracks by her response: “Ashley doesn’t want you to be disappointed that she hasn’t made more progress in her eating. She wants you to know that it’s hard – and she’s really trying.” Imagine that . . . a young woman (your daughter), struggling courageously for her life, worrying that her dad (that guy I described above) might be disappointed in her!
Dads, we’ve got some work to do – “there’s a ball at the castle.”