When I pulled into my driveway this evening, I had to be careful to avoid getting in the way of a softball. The man next door was outside with his daughter again. The little girl is around 8 or 9 years old and he was throwing balls high into the air for her to practice catching fly balls.
“Great catch!” I called to her as she got to a difficult ball just in time. Then I asked her dad — jokingly — if she’s going to be a softball star.
“She already is,” he said as he beamed with pride. “She plays on the community team and they’ve been winning tournaments. They won in Tuscaloosa next weekend. If they win one more, they go to the state tournament.”
I don’t know this family well, but we always wave and say hello. They’re originally from somewhere in Latin America and the parents’ accented English is sometimes difficult for me to understand.
This evening, though, I didn’t have any trouble understanding. He was a loving father whose pride in his little girl was unmistakable. His love for his daughter transcended our language gap.
I constantly see this man spending time with that little girl. The mother is there, too, and she spends a lot of time with the girl, but there’s something noteworthy about this father’s dedication. Maybe it’s just that I see so many fathers who only grudgingly spend time with their daughters instead.
For a lot of fathers, children are a source of ego-satisfaction and little more. Those fathers love being the one who their children are eager to see when they’ve been away. This sort of father doesn’t really want to spend a lot of time with the child, patiently teaching and nurturing. That sort just wants to bask in the warm glow of being wanted.
If you see scenes from a relationship between such a father and daughter, you might even think you’re witnessing something healthy. The needy child is eager to see the father who has been so emotionally absent — and the father is happy in that moment to be wanted and needed. That sort of man wants those moments of joyful adoration, but he’s not interested in taking care of the simple everyday needs of his children. (Or his wife, for that matter.)
That’s not love. That’s a narcissist looking for what’s called “narcissistic supply.”
What I see from my neighbors is different. I never see him scream at his daughter. I never see him telling her she’s no good or that she’s doing everything wrong. I just see him patiently showing her how to do things right.
I’ve watched them having batting practice in the back yard. Whether she’s hitting the ball or she’s missing everything, he’s smiling and teaching her how to do better, but in a way that makes her relaxed and happy.
I’ve watched her help him wash their cars. He shows her how it’s done and picks her up when she can’t reach a spot on her own. She doesn’t do a great job — she’s a child, after all — and he simply fixes what she didn’t do well enough. And the time they spend doing it seems happy, not like work.
I’ve watched him teach her what he’s doing as he assembled an above-ground swimming pool for her. She seemed to want to know how it all worked. He didn’t brush her questions aside. He patiently explained — and made it fun for her.
I’m envious of what he has with that little girl.
I know that good father-child relationships are common — maybe not as common as they should be, but still pretty routine. It’s just that he has something I don’t have. He has something which I want very much.
There are few things in this world which are as exciting and potentially world-changing as raising emotionally healthy children. Almost anybody can produce offspring, but far fewer are emotionally mature enough to manage their own needs and wants and demons well enough to give their children the start they need in life.
I’ve always known I wanted children, but for many years I was afraid to have kids, because I was afraid I would be too much like my narcissistic father. Both of my parents came from dysfunctional families. I was determined not to continue their unhealthy psychological patterns.
I finally know I’m emotionally healthy enough to give children what they need — and I’m eager to have that sort of relationship. I always know that intellectually, but there are certain times — and certain relationships — that bring it home to me emotionally.
They’re next door right now living normal life as a loving family. They have no way of knowing how much I want the simple and loving relationship which seems to come so easily for them.
He’s a good father. She’s a good daughter. They’re lucky to have one another.