I took my husband and my not quite 13 year-old stepdaughter to the airport early last Thursday morning. They flew out to Seattle to embark on a week-long Alaskan cruise. I’m really excited for them. This will be the longest amount of time that the two of them have ever spent together, alone. They’re staying in a 170 square foot interior cabin. They’re going to come back closer than ever, in so many ways. I think my stepdaughter will understand what I mean when I say that we don’t need to get a dog. Her father already snores and passes gas in his sleep. And, as you may already know from my previous post, Gesundheit, he is not completely housebroken.
But this trip is such a unique opportunity for my husband to really get to know his daughter and for her to get to know him. I know that sounds odd for a father and daughter but she was less than three years-old when her parents divorced and in the years that followed she didn’t spend much time with her dad. He owns a restaurant and has always worked a lot especially when she was young and the restaurant was new. When she was 8 years-old, she and her mother moved 2 hours north of where we live to be closer to her side of the family. No more quick visits. No chance for a mid-week dinner together. It was just too far. But after the move, when she came to visit her dad, she would stay for the weekend. He set up a bedroom for her in his house, painted it purple, her favorite color, and decorated it with “Hello Kitty” bedding, pillows and accessories. And she started coming to visit him every other weekend and spending half of her summers here. When her dad had to work, she would come over to my house and hang out with my kids.
A year after her move, her dad and I got engaged. And six months later, we got married and combined our lives in my house (Domestic Affections). We turned the guest room in to her room. It was also purple and we put up pictures of her and her dad, her grandmother and even one of her mom. And we tried to help her find a place in her new home. Clothes that stayed here, her special face wash, her “Hello Kitty” pillow and a new bike.
After her dad and I got married, I needed some guidance in dealing with all of the household changes going on so I went to talk to a therapist. One of the things I was having a hard time with was figuring out how to be a stepmother, what my place was in her life and how involved I was supposed to get when I had an opinion about something going on with her. Was it my place to educate her about puberty and getting her period when she was 12? My daughter knew about those things at the age of 10. Could I take her to get a bra when she was in need of wearing one?
More importantly though was my frustration with the relationship my husband had with his daughter. I thought it should be more than it was. I knew what it was like to be a kid with divorced parents. My parents separated when I was 13 and divorced when I was 16. But my dad still lived in our same town. And he was involved in my life, going to my softball games, having dinner together and even taking me and my best friend on a trip to California when we were in high school. It’s a trip that I still have great memories of, especially of the older gentleman who shared a table with us in San Francisco’s Tadich Grill. When my friend and I went to the bathroom, we discovered that he was touching both of our knees under the table. Good times!
So the therapist and I spent some time talking about my husband’s relationship with his kid. And about the importance of the father-daughter relationship. How research has shown that girls without a strong father figure, whether their parents were divorced or not, are at risk because this relationship sets the standard of how girls are going to interact with men as they get older. Statistically, girls without a good relationship with their father have been shown to have low self-esteem, make poor decisions in their own relationships with men and exhibit precocious sexual activity. And it all made sense to me. Couple this with all of the other issues that our daughters potentially face as they enter their tween and teen years and the doom and gloom in me came out. She’s going to be a 17 year-old pregnant high school dropout, working at Hooters and in a relationship with a 40 year-old megalomaniac. Help!
My husband and I started talking a lot about his relationship with his daughter. I really wanted him to make a different kind of effort with her because of what I had learned, because of my own history and because I could see the benefits that my daughter gets from her relationship with her father. Those circumstances are different because her dad lives close by and he can make it to her concerts and sporting events. He can stop by the house for a quick visit if he hasn’t seen her or her brother in a few days. They talk on the phone almost every night even if it is only for a few minutes. And this works great for them. Believe me, I don’t always agree with the parenting style of my ex-husband (11:30 is not an appropriate bedtime for an 8 year-old and nightly showers are not negotiable) but this is something that he has gotten right.
My husband’s relationship with his daughter has always been different. I don’t know if it’s because of the geographical distance or because his ex-wife doesn’t help facilitate, or even encourage, it like I do with my ex. Or maybe it’s because he grew up without a strong father figure. He didn’t know his biological father and his stepfather left when he was a teenager. And maybe he just couldn’t relate to his daughter very well when she was younger. But over the last couple of years, he’s been trying hard to figure out fatherhood, learning how to be the best father he can be and enjoying all that this brings with it. His relationship with his daughter has really grown and I can see the happiness that this brings to both of them. All of which makes me happy as well.
His daughter will turn 13 in a few months. Truly a young woman. And we both know that these years, before high school and before college, are precious. For now, all three of our children still want to be with us, hang out with us and travel with us. Still, last month when he came up with the idea for this trip, I was kind of blown away. The two of them only recently spent a night together in a hotel. A first occurrence for them and one that was a good experience. Still, an Alaskan cruise is a big deal. Over a week long, far away from home, and of course in very tight quarters. As the trip got closer, he started getting a little nervous about it. And I don’t blame him. It’s a big parenthood leap, one that other people, in different parenting situations, may not think to be a big deal. But trust me, for him it is huge. And I’m proud of him for taking it.
The value of this trip, what it brings to their relationship, can not be overestimated. This experience, shared only by the two of them, will produce amazing, long lasting memories. And give them a kind of closeness and intimacy that they haven’t had before.
Of course, the flip side is that he and I haven’t been apart for this long of a period of time since we first started dating almost 7 years ago. Six days in, I’m starting to miss our closeness and intimacy. Fantasy, and a newly rediscovered toy, can only take me so far and neither of those things does much in the kitchen. I’m starving in so many ways.
So, Happy early Father’s Day to my husband, a wonderful (and getting better all the time) father. Hurry home. I can’t wait to hear all about the trip. And I need to be fed.