You raised me to crave your approval.
Other than God’s approval, yours was the most important thing I could have. I know you just wanted the best for me; at least, the best that I could have as a woman. There was always a subtle conflict between the church message that women should be submissive wives and mothers and what you told me - that I could do anything. That I was intelligent and capable. That I was strong. There was always a subtle conflict between those messages you tried to instill in me and the reality of how you treated me — as weak for having emotions. As your property to give away to my future husband for having a vagina.
Nonetheless, I strove for perfection. It started early. You had me reading and speaking in full, articulate sentences before I was in kindergarten. You often bragged that I was just like “a little adult.” You treated my body as an adult, too. Covered me up, shamed me for my flesh. I was grown too early despite not actually hitting puberty until I was 16. All I ever wanted to do was please you. But while my friends were getting stickers or ice cream or dollars for Bs and Cs, I was getting scolded for A minuses. I never got a B on a report card in my life. I was too afraid to fail, to fail YOU. By the time I got to college, it was second nature. I got lucky that I love the sport I played, because being a bench warmer was simply not an option. I know that all you wanted was to see me succeed, but would it have killed you to bite your tongue a few times instead of constantly critiquing? Yes, it made me better at the game, but it also made me better at flinching every time you’d yell, embarrassed that you might get thrown out of the gym — again. Hearing you say that you are proud of me was what I’ve always wanted. You set my life up in such a way that your approval is practically approval from God himself. And you did tell me, sometimes. Usually only after really large accomplishments, but there were times.
Now that I’m truly an adult. Now that I’ve made some extremely difficult decisions about faith and politics and identity. Now that I am independent and doing well and living a happy life. Now you’ve ripped the approval that I sought after right out of my hands. You set me up to fail if I didn’t do exactly as you always wanted. You raised me to see myself as a failure if you weren’t behind me. Now I grieve on Father’s Day because I know that you aren’t proud of me. I grew up hearing you talk about people. I know what you think of me now. I can’t continue striving for approval that I’ll never earn, but I desperately want it. So today, instead of wishing you a happy father’s day, I’m crying myself to sleep. Because I will never be the daughter you envisioned, and I doubt you will ever be proud of me again. And I need to learn to be okay with that.
I know you loved me and did what you thought was best. But right now, I’m not so sure you love me. I don’t know if you’ll ever be able to love me for who I truly am. I grappled with that today. I’m not okay with that yet. But I will be eventually, because I have to be. Because I AM intelligent, capable, and strong, just like you always wanted.
These words, written last year on Father’s Day and resurrected from the depths of my iPhone notes, still mostly ring true. I believe more than ever in my own intelligence, ability, and strength. However, I have endured far too many harsh words in the name of your love to still believe that you love me. To quote another post of mine:
… but you don’t love me. You love the idea of me. The idea of having a daughter who grew up to birth your grandbabies and be a stay at home mom and vote Republican. The idea of a meek, submissive wife who cooks for her husband and teaches Sunday school every few months at church.
Last year, I grieved on Father’s Day. I hadn’t even come out yet, but I knew what would happen when I did. Last year was the first Father’s Day in my life that I didn’t at least text you to wish you a happy day.
Last year was the first time I listened to my body and didn’t force myself to send you an obligatory, half-hearted text. I finally allowed myself to begin grieving, to work on moving past my need for your approval.
I’m happy to report that I’ve made great progress in that department.
I’m happy to report that I have the approval of my chosen family — folks who care more about me than you could ever understand.
I’m happy to report that I finally have the approval of the person who means the most — me.
So happy Father’s Day.