The Terrifying Power of a Father's Words

by Whitney Weathersby

There are only two positive things that I can remember that he has ever said me unprompted: 1) “I like that,” referring to something I did while driving, and 2) “She has great comedic timing.” The former was nice, but didn’t carry much weight as I have always been pretty assured of my driving skills. I don’t talk an exorbitant amount of trash behind the wheel for nothing. I’ve seen bad driving, and ninety percent of the time, I don’t do it.

The second, however, meant something. The most peculiar part is it wasn’t even said to me. It was directed toward my mother just out of earshot. He had finally acknowledged that I had some desirable quality in my personality, even if he couldn’t say it to my face.

The most unsettling thing about it is whenever someone mentions how funny I am, I can’t resist dropping in, “my dad says I have great comedic timing,” like it’s the most glowing review I’ve ever received. I let it roll off my tongue as if it is the Oscar of funny, the Tony of humor. There is usually a tone of jest to cover the ridiculousness of bragging about a parental compliment, but I am compelled to share it because it’s the only one of its kind that he has given to me.

My relationship with my father is fraught with tension stemming from years of neglect, abuse, and denial. Forgiveness has always felt like my only option because I have been conditioned to hate dysfunction and confrontation with most people due to my harried upbringing. Even despite my efforts to forgive on most topics, I cannot help but question his judgement. He doesn’t have the most glowing track record, and in an ironic twist of fate, I inherited his skepticism. But this, this one statement made to my mother in a surprised tone with eyebrows raised has stuck with me.

Even after nearly three decades on this planet, it impresses me how a simple affirmation from my father can uproot a deeply dug insecurity and replace it with confidence in a gift I have always possessed. The truth of the matter is I don’t even think I’m that funny. I can be quick witted, usually by accident, simply because my brain moves faster than my two lips can snap shut, but rest assured I won’t be coming to a stage near you anytime soon with my one woman show.

However, those five words, spoken by a man with whom I struggle to use possessives when referencing, has had a bigger impact on me than I ever thought it would. It makes me stand taller and walk more assuredly. I speak more freely for my father sees that this is something innate inside of me. It supports me on the days when I doubt whether or not people are laughing with me, at me, or if they are truly laughing at all.

And this angers me.

It angers me because by this time, all of the love, acceptance, and encouragement I have received from everyone else in my life should be enough. The words of a mostly absentee father should carry not one ounce of weight more than the people that have fed me, stayed up with me, healed me, cried with me, celebrated with me and prayed for me my entire life. Nevertheless, those five words withstand all kinds of weather, while the encouragement from close friends and family has a way of needing replenishment as time wears on.

It angers me because no matter how I try to convince myself otherwise, I have needed and potentially always will need my dad, but I have never had the luxury of having him. I have had amazing stand ins and great male role models, but never a dad to call my own. I keep waiting for the moment when the desire to be a daughter to the man that’s responsible for half of my face, my height, my passion, my way with people and my temperament goes away, but the older I get the more I realize that while the longing won’t fade, the time that is needed to mend this chasm is ever waning. I never seem to have enough thread to complete the project before the tear gets bigger.

Last night, I heard my almost three year old niece sing something that jarred me deeply in my soul. In a recording, she emphatically belted out her version of the second verse of “The Wheels on the Bus”: “The daddies on the bus go, ‘I love you. I love you. I love you.’” It stopped me cold. The only bus I have ever known with wheels that went ‘round and ‘round had mommies on the bus shushing their children and a most likely overworked public servant barking at patrons to move on back, but I liked her rendition better. Her bus has the very thing that every child’s heart already has a permanent place carved out for, and her’s will be filled. She won’t have one misdirected compliment to cling to with all of her strength, but she will dance in a sea of her father’s affections. I wish every girl and woman the freedom of this dance.

Whitney Weathersby is a multi-passionate writer, actress, and serial thrifter. She currently resides near Houston with her Super Man husband. Follow her on Twitter 

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