"The only man a girl can trust is her daddy." "The reason why daughters love their dads the most is because they know there is at least one man in the world who will never hurt her." "It’s not that my standards are too high, it’s just that my daddy set an amazing example of how a man should treat me."
For some, these quotes resonate. Women can call themselves "daddy's girls" and measure all of the future men in their lives up to their fathers' standards.
I am not one of those girls.
My father’s love was that of control, terror and violence, and it was peppered with temporary instances of immense regret and guilt-purchased gifts.
My first memory is of intense fear: I was attempting to run as fast as my 5-year-old legs could carry me, only to be swept up by his powerful hands that then beat me on our backyard porch.
He hit me some number of times, then left me on the weathered wood, sobbing as my pants became damp thanks to an alarmed and, therefore, uncontrollable bladder.
I don’t know what it's like to view my father as a pillar of love, comfort and respect. So, when I used to read or hear quotes like the ones above, I was filled with sadness and an extreme, overwhelming anxiety.
If it’s true, and a woman will eventually end up with a man much like her father, was I destined to an inescapable future of sadness, pain and hopelessness?
Against my best efforts, would I spend the majority of my life like my mother did?
Would I be scared to be myself, beaten into submission and afraid for myself and my children?
Would the angst of inevitability lead me to push people away, distancing myself from a potential future of happiness for fear it would dissolve into an unending cycle of domestic violence and solitude?
My parents’ relationship started as normal, romantic and exciting as any other, and my father deceived my mother into thinking he was someone he wasn’t. Could I also then be mislead by a seemingly kind and generous man?
Thankfully, the answer is no.
Some girls may end up with men who resemble their fathers, but I am not one of those girls.
The example my father set — that sometimes kept me uneasy and nervous of any long-lasting romantic relationship — was also a helpful tool.
I could pull out the wrench he had planted in my gut after years of physical and verbal abuse, and I could use it to tighten my reserve, tweak my expectations and screw his debilitating precedent.
I could look at all the ways he hurt my mother, all the ways she felt powerless to stop him, and consciously decide I would find, demand and live better.
The bruises he put on her face transformed into long-lasting red flags I was well aware of and consistently vigilant of.
And, when a boyfriend put his hands on me in a drunken fit of uncontrolled anger, my response was automatic.
I knew his apologies were empty and his regret was useless. Me leaving him needed to be as inevitable as my future would have been if I decided to stay.
And when I found a man who was loving, caring and all the things my father couldn’t be, I knew the belief was fallacious.
The thought I was destined to continue a cycle of cruelty and desperation was as wrong as my father’s actions.
Despite his shouts and fervent, hateful words, I knew I was worth more than the controlling hatred of a desperate and violent man.
I was deserving of compassion, kindness and unrelenting support, and that is what I have found.
We tend to think we are at the hands of some pre-written certainty, sighting destiny or fate.
We tell ourselves we are powerless to change our futures, mostly because the weight of our pasts can be as heavy, powerful and consuming as quicksand.
But, the truth is we can take even the worst of circumstances, or the people who facilitate them, and use it all to find something better.
We can miss out on the love, affection and protection of a father, never knowing what it is like to be a unconditionally loved by the man who helped make us, and we can still find partners who do what our fathers never did.
Some can call themselves daddy's girls and hold their fathers up as a standard for which every other man in their lives will be measured.
I am not one of those girls.
But, if I have a daughter, she will be.