I can sum up my early relationship with my dad in one word: hero. My dad was my hero. I saw him as the protector, the fun-maker, and the thinker. When we would have guests over, I would sometimes prefer to sit on his knee or beside him while the other kids played. I would listen and watch with wide eyes as he talked with other adults, giving his opinion with the smile that crinkles his eyes and scrunches up his nose. When others talked, my dad would listen with careful, humble consideration. I can always tell in his eyes how hard he is thinking about what people are saying. And whether he agrees or not, his eyes always hold the same respect. From him I learned to always look at both sides of a situation, and to value others’ opinions no matter what my own may be.
Up until I was ten years old my father had no sons. Living in Africa, I grew up with a healthy appreciation for adventure. My dad recognized this and fostered it. So alongside my dolls I played with the bow he had made me, sharpening my own arrows with my mock swiss army knife and targeting passing sheep (until Dad stopped that practice and I had to resort to aiming at rocks and bushes). I was a warrior princess, Robyn Hood’s equal. My Dad’s confidence made me feel strong. “I don’t want my girls to be wimps,” he would say in a playfully rough voice, gently punching my arm.
My dad may have given me soccer balls and bows and arrows, but he never made me feel that I had to choose between those and my more feminine playthings. He cared for and protected my sensitivity, cradling me whether it was my heart or my knee that was wounded. He also made me feel beautiful, telling me often how pretty I was. I remember so many times in my awkward teenage years, I would come out of my room ready for a concert or for church and he would look at me with tenderness in his eyes and say, “Look how pretty you are.” I knew that he meant it, and somehow his approval made everyone else’s not so important.
For my graduation, my father wrote me a beautiful letter. He told me how proud he was of me. Then, near the end, he told me that I was his first heroine. My father’s heroes are men like Blaise Pascal, C.S. Lewis and William Wilberforce. When I read those words that placed me next to people of such accomplishment and passion I began to cry. My dad thought me worthy of the title- heroine- and suddenly all the dreams I had to change the world were not so very far off.
My father has also instilled in me a great sense of heritage. He tells me stories and talks about my family’s history in England and Wales as if it were part of our everyday, modern lives. A writer himself, Dad has recorded stories for me of my grandfather who I knew only briefly as a child before he passed away. In this way I have learned a lot about my dad, and in turn, about myself. He helps me discover where I have come from in order to better discern where I am going.
My father is a sensitive man, but he does not cry often. In fact, I know of only a few times he has shed tears. Of those times, I have only seen one. It was the night I left home and flew back to Canada to begin university. I had a hard time believing that Dad was even crying until one of the girls I was travelling with confirmed it. Those tears spoke more to me than all the parting words we exchanged. They meant that I am cared for, that I am important, and that I will always have someone to protect me when I am vulnerable.
Through the past few years, as I have tried to take my place in a world full of heartache and failure, my dad’s encouragement and confidence in me has rested in my heart like an anchor, able to withstand even the ugliest storm. I have come to him many times with my head spinning with questions of history, theology and social justice. He patiently unravels my ideas, discusses each point, and researches answers he doesn’t know. It has also been a great honour when I have been able to share what I have learned or beliefs that I have developed. I don’t strive, as some do with their own fathers, to win his approval. He is proud of me now, and that in part gives me the confidence to take on tasks that may seem insurmountable. He tells people proudly that I am in a program in university studying to “save the world.” I may roll my eyes, but I cannot help but smile because he too thinks it possible. I’m not alone in dreaming that God can do all things. I’m not alone in hoping for a better place for those who are hurting. My dad is there too, and his prayers and confidence mean everything to me.