During this short week before American Thanksgiving, we decided to explore the topic of family. Specifically, our family of origin and its relationship to the new baby families we make when we get married. Because really, is there a better time to explore this topic than right before the holidays when we all go home and, to quote Submissions Editor Maddie, “Start acting like we’re 13 again”? So today we dive in with a super smart, super moving essay from Brytani (who you’ll remember from her lovely and simple wedding) about the shifting relationship with the parent we’re closest to after the wedding.
A couple months before our wedding, I had a mini-breakdown outside of a house that my man and I were considering renting. My sweet partner had looked for everything I asked for and found it in a house that we could afford, but it was old and had a structural strangeness to it that made me anxious about the decision. Our landlord asked us how we liked it—we looked at each other and I rocked back and forth from one foot to the other.
“I need my dad to look at it,” I said, all the words tumbling from my mouth in one breath.
My partner shook his head and tossed up one hand, as if to say, “What are you gonna do?”
Car doors slamming, tears, high-pitched conversation.
“You didn’t tell me what made you nervous about the place,” he said.
“I know, I’m sorry,” I said and meant it. “I just… need my dad on this one. I can’t feel confident until he tells me it’s okay.”
I could read his expression so clearly—the hurt, the frustration. He was screaming at me on the inside, wondering why I hadn’t grown beyond my father. He wanted the total trust, the absolute certainty that I gave my dad to be transferred to him all at once, and I just couldn’t do it.
On our wedding day, our photographers paid special attention to moments between my dad and me. At one point I was asked if we were very close, and between thoughts of how awkward it would be to answer if we weren’t, my dad and I nodded with big smiles. Yes, we each had the same favorite episodes of Star Trek. Yes, we always played co-op video games together. Yes, we took naps at the same time on Sundays. We were close. On that day, I was particular about where I wanted him and what his duties would be because above everyone but my husband, I needed him most to get me through. At one point when we were being mobbed by family with cameras, panic rushed over me and my eyes glazed over. The way Dad’s eyes were misty all day, the way everyone wanted pictures of us together, all the father-daughter rituals… was this going to be The Last Time? Were things going to be different somehow now? I swallowed down the feelings and summoned my inner wells of wisdom and calm.
I told myself to ignore that prickly, gut warning and be rational. Marriage wouldn’t change our relationship. So when I visited my parents’ house and he went out of his way to make me comfortable or made a fuss over making sure my tea was made correctly, I freaked out a little. My mom tried to reassure me that he would be okay and that he would get used to “it.” I wanted to grab and shake her. What fucking “it” woman?!
See, no one told me this (or maybe someone did and I just denied it) but marriage does change the way you’re expected to deal with your father. By some definition that was definitely not of my choosing, I was someone else’s girl now. I wanted to be my husband’s wife, sure, but never at the expense of being my dad’s daughter. I learned from context clues that I wasn’t expected to need my dad anymore. He was to be labeled “auxiliary” now—a fallback. Marriage made my husband expect to be my first call when things broke. It made him expect to be my primary source of knowledge and comfort on… well, everything that I didn’t know or felt anxious about. I didn’t prepare myself for that.
This may be because I’m a young wife (now twenty-three) but I’m just not done needing my dad, and somehow I doubt that I ever will be. I’ve been married for a year now, and I can tell you that while I want to lean on my husband, it’s not exactly my default instinct to dial his number when I need technical support. It’s not because I think my husband is incapable of providing it, I’m just running on years of experience with my father—years of baking together, arms covered in flour, years of playing chess and listening to classical music, and years of calling him in tears when I can’t fix it. It’s an act of will every time I ask my husband for help, a conscious decision to regard his feelings first and to trust him to be what I need.
It’s a hard transition, and while at first I felt it was one of those societal torture devices pushed on new wives and brides, I see now why it is a little necessary. My husband and I are a team and a tiny family on our own. We have to be the most important people in each other’s lives now and while we can go to my dad for help together, I can’t skip my husband entirely. I’m not used to it and neither is my dad. In fact, at first his struggle with it made me feel like I had abandoned him, but in a way, I’m comforted by how hard it is for both of us. It’s not fair or reasonable for anyone to expect us to be sunny and perfect right away, and that’s why I’m sharing this now. I think it’s okay to set your own pace for transitioning to your new family, and if you still bawl looking at old family photos, damn it, that’s just fine.
A few days before our wedding, I was going through a massive trunk of family pictures when I came across a picture of my dad riding an elephant with little baby me in his lap. Since I had just finished creating a page in our adventure book about wanting to ride an elephant one day, I just stopped everything and cuddled with the photo for a moment. I still feel all warm about it—that he knew me that well even in the beginning. So there you have it. Dads are forever.
Photo by: Aria Images