I’ve had my dad for 44 years. Because my mom’s been gone for 29 of those years, that length of time has been important to me in unique ways.
He’s not perfect. But he’s been present and available for my entire life. He’s had to be Dad and Mom for almost three decades. Parenting a motherless daughter isn’t easy.
He’s made mistakes, just as I do now, as a mom. My dad did the best he could with the emotional resources he had available. I probably wouldn’t have said the same before motherhood. Nothing breeds empathy for your parents like becoming one yourself.
He raised me to seek first an education, in all things; to work hard; and to be my own woman. Raised by Greek-immigrant parents, my dad had one of the strongest work ethics I’ve seen. He maneuvered to fit into American culture, often chided for his Greek accent and last name. Greek was his first language until he was in kindergarten. He soon was ashamed of being different. Assimilation meant he hid his accent and spoke Greek only when necessary. Once he was an adult, he dropped our lovely last name—Leakos—and picked an Americanized one.
In these actions, my dad buried some of our culture. It’s left me wanting to know more about my heritage. I wish I could speak Greek as fluently as some of my friends. Still, I was baptized Greek Orthodox, and Greek Orthodox I’ll remain. My dad transferred to me a deep pride about being Greek and being American. To him, the two were as one.
Dad’s example has translated into a lifetime of good things for me. I learned to study and work not just hard, but well—and to enjoy the process. When I was accepted at Northwestern, he supported my undergrad work, and later, championed my return as a graduate student. When my first book published, he bought two copies: one to preserve in its unopened richness, and another to read. When Publishers Weekly reviewed it, Dad wrote to me:
I read your new book review. l am so glad for you. The praise that you received tells you that you have done a great job, and gives you satisfaction to know that you have the skill to go on. And if writing more books is what you choose to do, you have the skill and knowledge to do so. I am very proud of you.
His presence also meant I didn’t seek my identity in relationships. I didn’t grow up thinking marriage would somehow round out my world or perfect my life. When I did find the man I’d marry, the right reasons motivated me.
Psychology tells us that a girl’s early attachment patterns to her dad shape her romantic relationships later in life. Looking over the landscape of my life, I see that to be truer with each glance. I see it in the fabric of my daughter’s life, too—how she looks to her dad for certain validation she could never get from me.
I’m grateful for all that’s good and true in my dad, and in my husband.