Becoming a woman when you’re raised by a single father means understanding manhood and all of its layers.
It’s more than yelling, “Touchdown!” sporadically on Sunday nights while wearing my father’s football merchandise.
It’s more than laughing at his corny jokes, like the times he asked my friends if he could pass as my brother.
It’s more than the times we almost burned the kitchen down, since neither of us knew how to cook.
It’s more than the times he sat through all my favorite rom-com TV shows and movies that I “forced” him to watch; the ones I could tell he secretly enjoyed but would never admit out loud.
It’s more than the times he would stand outside of Sephora waiting for me. Or any of the times he critiqued the dresses for school dances, and the outfits that I never told him were actually for first dates.
It was about him understanding me and what I needed from the mother I no longer had. It was about me understanding him and what he needed from the wife he lost to a sudden heart attack. Womanhood, when you’re raised by a single father meant a lot of unspoken lessons on inner strength.
For my father, I learned his strength lay in his pride and never doing wrong. He always has to know the right answer, and solution to everything—from crashed computer hard drives to handling the unfixable things in life. When he watched me cry outside our doorstep after I broke up with my first boyfriend, that was one of the many ways he taught me inner strength. He taught me that sometimes all that’s left to do is sob and leave things unsaid, because we never have to explain or justify our feelings. He showed me that having strength meant accepting when our pride has been broken, and not being ashamed about it. Him sitting next to me, saying nothing at all and asking nothing from me in return, spoke louder than any words he could have articulated. It meant he was there for me no matter what I did, and no matter what would come our way.
While inner strength was a layer of manhood that I grew to understand over the years, in turn I learned the other side of that layer: Humility.
I’ll never forget when I overheard him on the phone saying to whomever was on the other line that if it was up to him, he would’ve wanted to be the one who passed away. “Because a daughter needs a mother, not a father,” were his exact words.
Yes, it’s a shame what happened to my mother. But it’s not a shame that the father I had in my life was the man that he is, someone who always tried his best to support and raise two girls on his own.