Karen Krizanovich: What Dads Are For
‘A father’s love can make or break a girl… He is the hero of her childhood and often a wall she pushes against during her adolescence. He is often both the rule-maker, laying out laws of discipline and competence, and the rule-breaker, helping his daughter take risks… and explore uncharted world. He often exists at the extremes of her psyche… He carries from his closeness with her an abiding – even if unconscious – sense of prediction about how his daughter will turn out.’
This quote is taken from a book called The Wonder of Girls by Michael Gurian (Pocket Books, £10). My father cut this quote out from his local newspaper and handed it to me without a word. I read it and my eyes smarted a little.
Mum and I are good friends now, after years of fighting, but Dad and I were always on the same side. He’s the one who told me, ‘There’s always room at the top’ a cliché–I remember well–along with, ‘Driving is a full-time job’–pieces of advice which are likely to serve anyone well.
We all know about sons and mothers. But there’s not that much about the exceptional relationship women have with their fathers, save for the sickly reference ‘daddy’s little girl’ which burns off with age. The lifelong association between father and daughter is a subtle thing, a collusion: you belong to a secret society of two. You can be a total ass and your father will still love you. He can’t help himself.
Women rarely talk about their fathers, the man who is, like it or not, a symbol of their ideal man or maybe the opposite of their ideal man. Whoever your father is, you’re kind of stuck with that template. Unlike mothers, with whom a female relationship is always more complicated, the father/daughter relationship keeps progressing. You have to trust your father, whereas a mother, you have to question. My father pulled up in a dazzling Mercedes-Benz one day. ‘Is that for me?’ I squealed, having heard of my friends’ fathers buying them cars. ‘It is! It’s yours!’ my father said. After a thrilling drive in it, I found out he’d put the down payment on it but I was expected to foot the rest of the bill. Was I disappointed? A bit. I wanted to have everything the easy way. Dad knew better. It took me seven years to pay off that car and it was some of the best money he never spent.
If a daughter doesn’t make peace with her father, there will be a part of her–the part that wants to be loved, to be shown how to be strong and allowed to be weak–that won’t ever feel right.
Of course, I would say that, being one of the lucky ones. I had a great relationship with my father. He was not perfect–for one, he thought I was better than I really am (impetuous, spoilt, a coward and a cheat as well as neurotic and arrogant). He was also a terrible loser and a smug winner – things I didn’t like when playing him at cards but memories I treasure now. A good parent who didn’t want children really, he urged me to shine and maybe, in a way, to shine himself, through me. He forgave me for running off to Britain when he had expressly told me not to go. Maybe he knew what I was going to do before I did it, hence the profound meaning of that quote, ‘an abiding sense of prediction of how his daughter will turn out’. That phrase gives me pause and reminds me that parents must have an intuition about their children’s future. They just don’t talk about it.
In the end, however much we love our fathers, we must separate and become ourselves. We will carry the expectations and the myths of him with us, but the luckiest of us will be allowed to make our own mistakes. And the wisest of us will realise that fathers don’t want to control us, they simply want the best for us – and as fathers they’ve seen further beyond the horizon than we have. We must trust their love, even if they are fallible.
Just as growing up is hardly a controlled explosion, parenting is also highly experimental. It is the hardest, most important job in the world and the one no one gets right. So, when your father makes a mistake, remember to match it with your own: we‘re all learning here, as we inch towards death. Develop compassion early so you won’t feel like an ass later on.
Our fathers will die, as mine has, but they will live on through us. That is the best any of us can do. Just remember: ‘driving is a full-time job’ and my father will nod in approval.
Karen Krizanovich began her career as a Sex Agony Aunt for Sky Magazine and writes for The Sunday Times, GQ and others. When not being admired, she is much sought after.