Life always brings good and bad times. When standing near a cliff, one person thinks, “If I jump, maybe it will stop the pain.” But on another day, that same person thinks, “The glory of God!” This story is about both.
My family life is most important to me now. It wasn’t always this way. As a young man, the rules about how to be a good family man were never clear, so when we started having children, my life became unpredictable and painful. I was the discipliner in my family, but since my wife, Debra, and I did not agree on some of the rules, I confused the kids when I enforced them. Debra was the one who kept everyone sane. If nothing else, this is a thank you letter to her.
I did a lot of things right, but in this letter I want to share how Debra and my daughter, Coco, had a wonderful affect on me. In fairness, much of my present happiness stems from the lessons they taught me over the years. These lessons humbled me to better appreciate other people’s pain.
Debra and I have three children. Two of our children, Carl, Jr. and Coco, came from our marriage. One of the children, Mathew, came from Debra’s earlier relationship. Debra is my better-half. It took me years of marriage to really appreciate her, and now I know she is what matters most to me. This story is about the great job she did raising our daughter. It took me years to put it all together, but when I look back now, I know that my daughter is an unspeakable joy to me because of Debra’s efforts.
My upbringing was filled with a void. Debra had a similar one. Our attraction to each other was not surprising. We mutually accepted we would do our best while allowing three children to live with us. We were in a common place; many other families were and are in a similar situation. Since raising children is one of the most difficult tasks on this planet, I just wish there was more universal agreement on what the rules are. Maybe that way, I could have followed them.
Debra was the nurturer; I was the discipliner. We both had a different idea of how to do these jobs, and this often led to disagreements. When I felt there was lack of clarity on how to do my job, I marched forward trying to convince myself to do my God-given duty with confidence and firmness. If I yelled too loud or was a bit mean, the kids went back to their mom for a hug. I would have been happy to offer them a hug, but they didn’t tend to ask me for it.
Debra is an angel, my angel. I think she sometimes questions why I use this word, but let me fill you in. We both have our vices. We like to have a smoke. A sip of wine is also nice, and when we do, we laugh at every joke, especially the dirty ones. I like to call her an angel because, although she’s not perfect, Debra has never been one to judge. Instead, she is very good at seeing the world through the eyes of others. She can see a person’s pain, and she is always ready to offer encouragement. We both strive to be nurturers, but sometimes I judge and yell. Debra does not; I call Debra my angel.
I have learned more from Debra than I realize. I don’t know who thought up the theory that our wives are supposed to take their orders from us men, but I can tell you it’s not true for me. It took me many years to understand that in the midst of all the mistakes I made, my wife had been quietly and patiently steering the ship.
As a man who worked in a blue-collar environment, a common topic at work was how we as men viewed women or girls. We often bragged about the women we were sleeping with and how good we were at finding these lovely trophies. During these years of boasting, I noticed an interesting trend. As my colleagues bragged, their stories often sounded a little too familiar—like they were being borrowed from a Hollywood movie script.
As a father, I wasn’t sure if I wanted my boys to come to me with questions like: “Why is it so important for us to want to sleep with women?” or “Dad, tell us about all the sex you had when you were younger.” As I later learned, my sexual history was part of the reason I felt the gulf between my family and me.
The disconnect between Coco and me started when she was about age 12 or 13, about the time her body began to take shape. Many fathers go through this. Our daughters really are a mirror-image of our wives. One day I was working in my backyard and noticed Coco step out on the pool deck. She was no longer a cute little girl; she was becoming a young woman. During her single digit years, she was cute. Now she had changed, and so did my life, always and forever. To be clear, nothing inappropriate happened between us, but I didn’t have the connection with her that I had with my sons.
Since I had done a good job of sexualizing women years before, watching my daughter grow into a breathtakingly beautiful young woman unconsciously put a strain on me. I could no longer bounce her on my knee or play games with her. The relationship we had shared was gone. A new relationship had to be forged, but I didn’t know how to do it or whom to ask. I couldn’t ask Debra and admit I didn’t know much about this topic. I was a man. I was supposed to have all the answers. I wanted to keep this facade alive, as painful as it was.
A few of my friends told me how to build a better relationship with Coco, but I didn’t really listen. Intuitively, I knew if I listened to their advice, I would have to change. The prospect of changing was too daunting; I was supposed to be in control. I was the man of the household and was supposed to know what to do.
As Coco entered her teen years and summer came, she asked me to build a small pond in the back yard and put a few fish in it. A simple request. It was her way of saying, “Dad, let’s spend more time together, or something like that.”
At once a wave of brilliance flowed over me. I agreed to the project and got busy. The more time I put into it, the more Coco’s smile faded. Her simple request had backfired, and she felt rejected. At that time, I did not realize that my behavior was fueling her rebellion. I had only one goal with this project; the pond was my way to tell her “I love you.” To me, this was the best way to communicate that to her. I always was a big doer and not a talker.
What she had wanted was a small pond that would allow us to work together, and when it was finished, to sit near it, play with the fish, and have great talks. Perfect father-daughter time.
I put all my energy into the pond, and it was a great success. As people came to my home and admired my work, I stood and nodded at the compliments and often made comments that I had built it for Coco. Most of the time, when I said this, she was not in the conversation and nowhere in sight. I don’t know if she even knew how I bragged about my love for her.
One or two years passed, and the pond became too much work and too expensive. We took it apart. Around the same time, Coco began to date a guy, a local young thug. I often whispered the name Thug, but I don’t remember if I used this word when I spoke with others, at least not in the beginning. No one in our family was happy about him or the situation. On more than one occasion, I expressed to Coco my clear dissatisfaction about her thug. By this time, she had tuned me out. The girl I loved so dearly was now actively ignoring me, her father—the man of the household. This really angered me. I thought what disrespect!
One of my greatest fears was now upon me. Coco had developed into a beautiful young woman and was getting the attention of many of the boys, but I was the last one from whom she wanted to take advice. Demanding that she obey my orders was even less effective. I noticed a couple of young men that seemed better than the rest, but she liked the guy that I didn’t like, the thug. At this time I could not see the bigger picture—or wouldn’t. I took offense, and let her know it. I know what you are thinking: “How could you have been so stupid?”
When men disconnect from the people they most love they often fall into a deep depression. This is what happened to me. A family friend who is a therapist had many talks with me. As the years passed, I learned to better tune into my thoughts.
He said my depression began when my family, especially Coco, became a burden instead of the source of my joy and happiness. Because I had not allowed myself to express to the people I love most how important they are, they withdrew from me.
Just to be clear, I did communicate to them in my own way. I spent a lot of time at home, so I was often available. The kids knew that I wasn’t running around with other women, but Coco wanted my time and my ear. She wanted to tell me what was bothering her and get my advice. I just didn’t tune into this.
As my friend and I had conversations about this over the years, I began understand. Debra reminded me that Coco had begged me for my attention during her early teens, but I lacked the confidence I needed to offer her what she really wanted. She wanted to be close friends with me, her dad.
Deep down, Coco resented this lack of closeness, and it caused a bit of a gulf between her and her mother. When children realize they don’t feel they can talk openly with one parent, that child may begin to trust both parents less. In Coco’s case, she trusted her mother, but only to a degree. She wanted more from both of us, but when I turned her away, she withdrew from both of us.
My poor fathering skills were affecting my family, and two of the people that I loved most didn’t want to talk to me. Alone in my family room hoping no one would ask me what I was thinking about, I wanted to find the magic that would make our family life better. I figured it was my responsibility, as the man and head of the household, to start solving problems. I was proud of myself. I wasn’t the world’s best reader, but I did spend time reading self-help books, the Bible, and Bible commentaries. I read a lot of good advice, but I still felt paralyzed when I tried to use it. It felt unnatural to tell the people that I love how I really felt about them. Crazy, huh?
The day in the back of my mind that I feared most arrived. I remember sitting in my chair doing my readings and feeling pleased with myself. Then the news came: Coco was pregnant! To make matters worse, the father was the thug. I felt as though she had just kicked me in the stomach with all her might.
How dare she? I remember thinking, I am secretly spending my time trying to solve our family problems and now my daughter has to go and cause another problem! I was furious.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my granddaughter, Jenny, was to become one of the greatest blessings of my life. My precious granddaughter would offer me the chance to be, so to speak, born again. After Jenny was born, something remarkable happened. Joy returned to our home. Secretly, I called her a miracle because she was what our family needed.
Although Jenny’s father is not involved in our lives anymore, Coco met a man named Tom, who happily stepped into the fathering role. I liked him from the start, but now we love and appreciate him all the more.
Coco grew into her mothering role, and the pressure for me to be a better father vanished. She had my attention now, and so did her daughter. I became the full-time sitter when Coco went to work, and it was an honor. The time I spent with my granddaughter brought back memories of what I had done right with my daughter when she was young. I had learned a lot, and I knew I had been given a second chance.
I am now in my fifties and am enjoying the relationship that I have with my wife and daughter. This has made my life very fulfilling. I am not Jenny’s disciplinarian; that is her mother’s job. I am my granddaughter’s nurturer and buddy. My relationship with Coco has changed; now I am her fan. I am the proud father and husband who is able to watch my daughter be a great mother and see how Debra has influenced her in so many ways. It is the perfect avenue by which to fall in love with my wife and daughter, all over again.
Sometimes we sit down and talk about Coco’s roles as a mother and my teacher. I’ve never been so humbled and so happy at the same time. She will always be my daughter, but now she is much more.
On many recent occasions, I have noticed Coco and Debra talking to each other in a whisper. As I have watched this happen, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Coco continues to improve as a mother, and my ability to love her has naturally flourished.
The only regret I have is that she and I didn’t communicate well as father and daughter many years earlier. I am confident, however, that we will have many greats talks in the days and years ahead.
When we accepted our new roles, I feared Coco might remind me of the many mistakes I had made. I need not have been afraid. When we sit down now, she doesn’t bring this subject up. Instead, she reminds me how great I am with her daughter.
I can’t help thinking about all the ways Debra has been working behind the scenes. She has always been and always will be the one I love most. Coco is growing to be her mother’s daughter. They both continue to contribute to making our family life a blessing. The depression and confusion is gone. I am a humbled, happy and joy-filled man.
The Loving Critique
I agreed to take this walk down memory lane because I wanted to see where and how I had grown. When Debra offered a critique, I blushed…
Carl has a big heart and is mostly a softy, so we call him “papa.” He is everyone’s go to guy when someone needs something fixed, whether it’s emotional or a job for a handyman. He can fix anything that breaks in your home or your car.
If you get into trouble, even with the police, you can count on papa for help. As he comes to your rescue, he will probably lecture you about how to avoid making the same silly mistake again. Although you may cringe at the time, it’s worth it.
But mostly, he has learned to tune into our children, and I feel so much more connected to him. He loves to cook for me and tell me how beautiful I am, inside and out. Although I don’t always believe him, I know the compliments come from his heart.