I could never do enough to make him love me

father daughter

I have had the fortune to live three lives—the life of a fatherless child, the life of a girl with an emotionally detached father, and now through my own 2 children the life of love between a father and his daughters.  So while all of what I write will not apply to you, some of it will.

I never knew Billy Wayne growing up.  I would imagine that at some point he did see me and we did meet, I must have been too young to know it.  I undoubtedly internalized the once or twice meeting though; a man only connects with children once they are physically present, unlike women, who bond throughout the pregnancy with the being growing inside them.  Because I have desired him in my heart in a much deeper fashion, I believe that he did hold me, that we connected long enough for a psychic exchange that made me want him in my life without knowing him.  My need was more than just curiosity; it was obsession.  I wanted to understand why he left me, why he never came to see me when I visited grandma Ernestine, why he eventually never responded to my letters, why his sister Bettye refused to give me his telephone number or address… In my own little world hidden deepen within the recesses of my mind, I thought about it, and thought about it, and thought about it…and thought about it.  Until finally, I came up with my own conclusion:  I wasn’t good enough to be a part of his world.

So I set about remedying the problem.  My cure, my curse became over-achievement.  By the 1st grade, I was reading at 4th grade level.  I read every allowable piece of material I could find.  I could recite whole passages of poems, books, and the bible.  I participated in everything:  gymnastics, ballet, dance, sports, music—you name it, I tried it.  I settled mostly comfortably into academic pursuits, writing and performing, and piano.  I threw myself into church and school, the only two venues through which I could perfect myself.  Christmas, Easter, school pageants, plays, recitals…I made certain that I became the main attraction.  And every performance, every standing ovation—rather than building up my self image and self efficacy—every bit of approval from others instead reinforced this idea that I had calculated in my head as a little, little girl: I will only be loved when I do extraordinary things.

I read complicated novels with understanding, wrote poems that people apparently still have from 1st grade, played songs far above my level, conquered math without a blink of an eye… so good in fact, that I was allowed to teach the baby class Vacation Bible School; so good that I was placed in the gifted program at school; so good that I was one of three students chosen to help in the brand new Kindergarten by seventh grade; so good that I took the PSAT in sixth grade; so good that I had taken Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II before ninth grade; so good that I was playing for weddings, funerals, and other churches by the age of 12. So good that I was never satisfied or happy or proud of myself.

It’s amazing how quickly a small mind can grab on to something so profound yet so wrong.  My family loved me—I was the baby even after my brother came along and all of my cousins.  I have, without question been spoiled stupid; and despite all the love that I have received, all the support, encouragement, kind words, and gifts of sacrifice for my good, I spent an entire childhood feeling not quite loved.  I really believed that all the love and attention was payment for my performance, that even my mother and my grandmother only loved me because I was such an awesome little thing.

Yes, my family loved me but it was not the love that I wanted.  I didn’t even realize or understand what kind of love I wanted at the time.  I now understand that it was love that is exclusively between a father and a daughter.  And that was the one kind of love that I never had.  As I write it, it sounds so selfish and silly now; but my world has been colored by this longing for as long as I have been alive.  I must do more now than admit it–I have to own it and understand it and finally make peace with it so that I can move forward.




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