“Daddy, listen, I need your advice. And I really need to talk to a man.”
That was me about two weeks ago. My dad and I have always been close, so close that I wouldn’t eat until he came home at night, and I would sit on his lap and eat off his plate. I’m a daddy’s girl, and I am thankful he has always been there.
I remember our father-daughter dates. I couldn’t have been older than 5, and he would take me to get a Squirt because that was my nickname. I would sit in the car and drink my Squirt and smile while kicking my feet.
My dad — I call him Papa — would do my hair some mornings, and I would sit with him and listen to music. To this day, I know the lyrics to everything from Steely Dan to the Bee Gees to “Secret Lovers” by Atlantic Starr. I inherited a deep love and appreciation for music from my father, a DJ in the ’70s.
When my parents divorced, it wrecked my little world. Looking back, I see how important having a father is to a little girl. I am lucky my dad has been a constant in my life.
There was no more perfect time than being with my dad, but as I got older, I became every father’s nightmare. I was wild for my age, a terror with a sweet smile.
My best friend and I were the only black girls at our Catholic school, and we were extremely close. The problem was that she was older. And as soon as my white girlfriends were old enough to drive, it was bananas. At 15, we did things women in their 20s were doing. At 21, I was running the streets of Manhattan as if I were in my 30s.
I excelled in school, so I never saw a problem with my behavior. I wasn’t doing anything out of the norm for a teenager in my hometown. The difference between a bad teenage girl and a good one was a baby or no baby.
My dad always said he prayed for me, and I know it had to be true.
My father and I grew distant through the teen years as every conversation turned into a lecture about G-d. I couldn’t understand why he was so adamant that I change. But he saw something in me that it took years for me to see in myself.
My relationship with my mother was nonexistent, and grandparents could only do what they knew how to do. It’s clear now that my father approached his relationship with me in a certain way because he knew what I endured at home.
We became closer when HBO launched “Sex and the City,” which kept me home Sunday nights. That became our date night.
My dad was a brave man. He knew a show full of sex, designer clothes and cosmopolitans interested me and my teenage friends, so he watched it with me every week. He answered any questions about love, sex and life, and I settled down as he dispensed fatherly wisdom. He became my confidant, and when it was time for college, he and his best friend drove me to art school, where I majored in fashion design. He believed in me, and for a girl, having a cheerleader is important.
I wanted to be just like Carrie Bradshaw, and though I had an eye for design, I ended up writing about fashion and interviewing Candace Bushnell. Through all the changes of my 20s, my dad was there. He knew I was heading for a crash, but he was there. The conversations became lectures again, and I couldn’t understand the problem.
He would always say, “Listen, I’ve been your age.” (He still says that.)
Before I moved to Atlanta, he sat me down and said: “Look, you’re going to meet a lot of men who didn’t grow up like you. They didn’t grow up in a two-parent household, and that’s going to make a difference.”
I heard him, but I wasn’t listening. I just wanted to interview every rapper and singer alive. I wasn’t thinking about men, but Daddy knew I would run into a couple. Now I know what he was trying to tell me.
If I can help it, I won’t bring children into this world without a man to help raise them because I know what my father meant to me. I know the effect he had on my life, and I thank G-d he was there.
It’s funny how tables turn. Now I call him just to pray for me, and sometimes I’m the one giving the advice. I see my father as a human who makes mistakes and has grand imperfections, but just as he loved me through my ups and downs, I love him. We’re growing together, and sometimes he grants me the privilege of talking him through his heartache and disappointments.
I even get to give him advice about my baby sister: “Daddy, don’t say it like that. You need to use a softer approach.”
“I’m proud of you,” he’ll say. And though it’s hard for me to believe, I understand because I’m proud of him too.