Raising daughters isn’t easy; especially when you’re a man. Speaking for myself, I was never attracted to the world of girls, and never did “girly” things as a child. I never understood the fun they found in dressing up, or dolls, or makeup…or any of the things like that. In fact, as a little boy, I found their idea of fun to be decidedly feminine, utterly mysterious, extra- extra boring and, well, kinda disgusting. Now, as a man, I’m beginning to see that there are just certain things that men (or “once boys” as I’ll refer to us from time to time) aren’t equipped to fully understand or even begin to fathom regarding the inner workings of little girls. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that we just have to accept them as what they are; wonderfully made, priceless, intricate, gifts from God.
I wish I could say that there was, but there was no true Earth shattering moment that knocked this point home for me… no instant realization, no road to Damascus moment, and no sudden epiphany. It was a slow process to get from there to here. Truth be told, I had very little to even do with it. In fact, it was less guided by me than it was by one of my own daughters…and when she was much younger than she is now.
My daughters are adopted. I usually say this now more for the purpose of setting a stage than anything else, because they are just as much a part of me as any flesh and blood kids could have ever been. In fact, I think that because of this very special adoptive relationship, I was forced to look deeper into bonding with them than a Father who had his kids with him since birth. They were birth sisters too, so by the time I entered the picture, they already had a bond with each other that I wasn’t a part of. In fact, to them, I was probably more of an intruder into their relationship, than an equal partner in our new one. Plus, my daughters came with their own unique set of challenges that we had to overcome as a unit…me my wife and them. As a father, I had my work cut out for me…and then some. Fortunately for me, every now and then, God would see how I was making a glorious mess of things and would cut me a break.
To say that my oldest daughter is kinda feisty, would be like saying North Carolina summers are slightly humid. She always has been one that had her own mind, did her own thing, and would never back down from telling me EXACTLY what was on her mind. It’s not that she’s the “pushy” type. Saying that she’s just never really been the “push-over” type would be a better way to say it. To put it plainly, the lil chick has always been one tough lil cookie. Later in our relationship, I started to see that this toughness stemmed from things that she had to face when she was really young. She had been dealt a difficult hand early on, and playing it out had forced her to make decisions that should have been reserved for someone at least twice her age. And those decisions had made her tough beyond her years.
Truly, toughness can be a blessing, but it isn’t always an easy thing for an outsider to deal with and at that time, that is exactly what I was in her life at the beginning as our relationship started…an outsider. It was months after the adoption before she would even hold a decent conversation with me, and I can’t possibly even count the amount of eye and neck rolls thrown in my direction. Honestly, I don’t think she even liked me very much. I figured going into it that love would come eventually, but GEEZ LOUISE! One of our most heated recurring debates was always the last name issue, and I hated to see those conversations coming. They usually played out a bit like this:
Dad: “Why do you keep writing your name as Anderson on your school papers? Your last name is McDuffie now.”
My oldest: (insert hands on hips here) “Nuh-uh. My last name is Anderson.”
Dad: “No, your name is McDuffie. We’ve had it changed. You know that.”
My Oldest: “No… (Insert “neck rolling” here.) YOU changed it. MY name is still Anderson. And I’m never going to use McDuffie.”
I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “God, what did I do by bringing this seed of CHUCKY into my home?!?!?” Mind you, this was a seven year old little girl that had me reevaluating this whole fatherhood thing and wondering if I could survive the prison sentence that would come with kicking a seven year old out of my car in front of the courthouse and screeching off at top speed. I mean, any judge worth his robes would realize that I slowed down enough to minimize her injuries after all and be lenient with me, right?
Once a cooler head prevailed though, thoughts like that were replaced with the thought that breaking down this particular barricade was a necessity if our relationship was ever going to grow and if she was to ever be that little lady that I knew she could be. I decided to be an adult. Ultimately, I was going to have to stand firm and force it down. Little did I know, that the timing of the fall was going to be TOTALLY up to her, and that I was just an extra in this scene in God’s big stage play for her.
One afternoon, the phone rings. I answer. It was one of her school teachers. Now this was a new one for us in my house. We had never gotten any calls from any teachers about the girls’ behavior (I guess Kee, my youngest, hadn’t yet grown into her evil powers yet…but more on that later.) Anyway, the teacher goes into explaining to me how Tee was taking up for her sister who she felt was being harassed by another student on the playground. Tee threatened to give the girl “a bloody nose” if she didn’t leave her little sister alone. The scary thing about that was that it probably wasn’t just an idle threat. Knowing her as I had grown to know her, I knew she meant every single word…no dotted I, no crossed T was an exaggeration. She promised a bloody nose, and she would deliver a bloody nose. Point blank. So I had to handle this tactfully. I apologized profusely to the teacher, promised her that I was going to take care of it and did my best to relax her fears of having a student with a bloody nose sitting in her class the next day. Then I called my oldest into my room with me and prayed that this wouldn’t cause this lil girl to go all Incredible Hulk on the other little girl the next day.
I sat her on my knee, and decided to shoot straight from the hip. “Baby, I understand that you have had to fight for almost as far back as you can remember. You’ve had to be an adult even though you don’t understand how, but you don’t have to do it anymore. Now you have a Mommy and a Daddy to do that for you. You don’t have to fight your own fights anymore. Let us help you.” That’s when the first bricks started to fall, and it provided me with one of the most beautiful moments of my life, one that I will never forget.
She took in a deep breath. Her shoulders started to heave up and down, and the tears started to flow. She cried like nothing I had ever heard before. It was heart wrenching. There was no gradual building up to it, she opened the faucet all the way, and out it all came…full force. You could feel the pain in her sobs, and it was soon joined with my own sobs as I sat there holding her little face to my chest and trying to choke back my own emotions long enough to console her. I could feel her letting go of years of pain and hurt…too much pain and hurt for so young a soul to handle on its own. And at that moment, I was starting to become more than a stranger in this relationship…I was starting to replace the barrier with a bridge that would take me from “that guy” to Dad. We sat there for about 45 minutes, sharing in each other’s tears, and relishing the formation of this new team.
I remember sitting in the living room a few days later when they came home from school, and she called me into a room with just her. Then she hit me with “You know what, Daddy? No one is going to ever bother me again. You know why? ‘Cause I’m a McDuffie and Mcduffies stick up for each other.” I mean, I’m a man and all…and I’m a pretty cool one if you ask me, but a brother had to leave the room QUICK! You ever have one of those times when you cry out of sheer, unbridled joy? Oh yeah, that was one for me, and she’s been Tee McDuffie ever since.