For every one of the 50 years my father and I had together, I was that most special of creatures to ever walk the planet: I was Daddy’s little girl.
As my parents’ youngest child and only daughter, I relished being Daddy’s favorite. The bond between us was as warm and life-giving as sunshine
One of my earliest memories is of my father taking me to see Chicago’s Buckingham Fountain, sparkling with brightly colored lights, on a hot summer night. I got the best view in the world, sitting atop his broad shoulders. When I played the part of a carrot in the kindergarten play, Dad was in the front row for the first of many concerts, performances and speeches I gave over the years. Whether I got a curtain call or fluffed my lines, he always made me feel as if I’d stolen the show.
The sweetest part of all: I didn’t have to do anything to merit this special status. All I had to do was to be born at the right time to the right man. My father, a medic on the frontlines in the Philippines during WWII, was like so many of the young men returning home from war. He’d had enough of battles, disease and death, and wanted nothing but a fresh start full of promise. My generation — the first wave of children born after the war — embodied the essence of life itself.
While our brothers strived to emulate their fathers and fulfill their expectations for a better future, it was we girls who melted their hearts. Relishing the role of Daddy’s little girl, I was part princess/part co-conspirator. Daddy thought I was perfect and always defended my right to eat another cookie when Mom said no. Long after I had left home to start a family of my own, he was still slipping me $20 bills to buy something pretty or fun.
I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 when Dad first taught me how to waltz by placing my tiny feet on top of his. When I graduated from high school, he was, naturally, my escort to the traditional father-daughter dance. He bought me a corsage, and I saved the petals in the music box he gave me that played our favorite song, “Sunrise, Sunset.”
Until the day he died, I was the one who always laughed at his bad jokes and sang heartily along with his endless medley of show tunes when others had stopped listening.
(MORE: On Becoming an Orphan)
Sixty years after Dad first hoisted me onto his shoulders, I think back to how many of my expectations about life stemmed from how special he made me feel. His unconditional love overflowed the banks of my childhood and have seeped into every facet of my life as a woman growing up to be at home in the world. Of the many gifts he gave me, these are five of the most enduring.
Life Lessons From Being Daddy’s Little Girl
- I am comfortable being the center of attention. When I give a speech or lead a workshop, I presume that not only the front row but also the entire room is riveted by my every word. This self-confidence stands in stark contrast to our mothers, who in the ’50s receded into the background with their aprons on, expecting their daughters to be equally restrained. My mother’s repeated warnings that I was making a fool of myself were worth enduring because when I drew attention to myself, I made my father smile.
- I bring optimistic energy to all negotiations. Any time I wanted or needed something from my father — whether the fancier prom dress or out-of-state college tuition — I knew I had a shot at getting it if I could get him to see things from my point of view. It’s not that every concession came easily. But I realized early on something that has stayed with me my entire life: If I have the facts to back me up and sufficient emotional investment to make persisting worthwhile, I’ll usually get my way in the end.
- I set the bar high in relationships, especially with men. The respectful way Daddy treated me conditioned me to accept nothing less from others. I honestly believe that’s why I was confident and self-loving enough to pass on every suitor who fell short of how I’d come to expect to be treated. Happily, I held out for a man who, like Dad did, lights up when I walk into the room. Dan and I have been married 42 years now: Substitute rock ’n’ roll for show tunes, and he’s a ringer for my father.
- I laugh easily and have a song for every occasion. Not every father laughs and sings, but they all do something that means something special to their daughters. Every former Daddy’s girl has incorporated her dad’s finest qualities into her life. My friend Beverly’s father, an accountant, was great with numbers. Now Beverly prides herself on helping her friends make smart decisions about money and budgets.
- I understand that unconditional love isn’t something you earn or justify. I no longer get to listen to Dad’s cornball jokes or spend his $20 bills on something “fun,” but Dad’s greatest gifts will be with me forever. I miss you Daddy, and I promise you this: No matter how many years pass, I will always be your little girl.
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