Letting go… or being let go?
With both my teenage daughters, there was the same flashbulb moment when I knew they were drawing away.
Both incidents played out identically, three years apart – the age difference between them.
Both were in their first year of high school when the moment came.
Both occurred in the car as I dropped them off at school.
Since their first school days, I’d kissed them goodbye. Then a morning came when it simply stopped happening. They didn’t so much push me away – which would’ve caused embarrassment on both sides. No, they wanted to avoid that; they weren’t aiming to hurt or humiliate. Without a word they each got out of the car… sans the customary quick goodbye kiss.
I didn’t, and don’t, drop them at school every day. It’s a bit of a treat for us both – a last chance for a quick chat, and to do them a rare favour. After the no-kiss policy took effect, there were a few weeks of unease between us. Then both parties simply accepted this was the way it would be from now on.
We didn’t discuss it; I took it as a progression – something that cannot, and should not, be stopped – the slow, inevitable flowering of a child into an adult.
Did they want to avoid embarrassment in case a friend spotted them kissing their father goodbye?
Did they begin to find it uncomfortable? How much of it was cultural? With our Anglo-Saxon background, we are less physical in expressing emotion than other cultures. I suspected my daughters were playing out a scene that my female ancestors had, where other cultures might allow a closer physical relationship between fathers and daughters through their teenage years.
Then there’s Freud’s studies of the psychological, behavioural changes a female undergoes during puberty – essential changes if that child is to become an adult, one that will reattach to another male at a later date… but only after letting go of her father.
I thought of all this as I drove home after the first time it happened with each of my girls. Images flashed through my mind of carrying them in my arms, of countless bedtime stories, of hugs and kisses before leaving for work every morning. We’d bonded early, so that they came to me as often as their mum when they needed a cuddle, a band-aid or a kiss to a bruised knee.
All that was in the past the day each decided they no longer required physical affection from their father.
I hadn’t changed; they had. And it was healthy.
Though difficult, we have to let go. And we have to be let go. Because that’s what really happens: I hadn’t changed; they had. And it was healthy.
We will kiss and hug on special occasions – but no longer on a daily basis, and that’s OK. We’ll always have the memories; we’re still close; we’ve gotten through the minefield of the teenage-daughter years perhaps not entirely unscathed, but with nothing more than a few minor flesh wounds.
When we started the journey together, I had no idea how it would end – and it’s not close to being over yet. I’ve seen a lot of father-daughter relationships go off the rails, so I know we’re doing better than just OK.
Sometimes it’s better not to miss what might’ve been and focus on what we have. I’d rather have a relationship with my girls where we can talk, have a dig at each other, and laugh together – which I have – and if that’s a trade-off for some minor physical affection, I’ll take it.
Raph Tripp is a Melbourne-based dad of two and a lover of cars, cricket and music.