My oldest daughter sobbed as she gathered her words. I’d always known her to be composed, so it was unusual to see her display such emotion. Sitting in my car a couple of summers ago. I listened patiently as she described the intense pressure she was feeling.
In her early 20s and just a few weeks away from starting law school, she shared her worries about relocating to a new state, finding an apartment, living apart from her longtime boyfriend and taking on her greatest academic challenge. And she was feeling alone. She asked if we could talk more regularly and spend more time together. She said she needed her father more than ever.
I was taken aback. She’s smart, courageous, hard-working and civic-minded. I’d watched her excel from grammar school through college. And after working for a couple of years, in Arizona and then North Carolina, she was accepted to a strong law program on the East Coast.
Our conversation made me realize that I was wrong to think that she didn’t need her dad the way she did when she was younger. A proud father of three girls — ages 25, 19 and 14 — I’d fooled myself into thinking that my job would be pretty much done once they left home and gained their footing.
For most of their lives, I’ve focused on providing my girls with the necessities — a stable upbringing, a decent home, a quality education and enriching activities. Now they’re making their own life choices and providing many of the basics for themselves. But they still need dad — something I’ve been reflecting on as Father’s Day approaches on June 18.
Soon after that emotional conversation with my oldest, we started talking on the phone more often discussing a book on prison abolition by Angela Y. Davis, among other topics.
And I began making periodic visits to see her in Maryland. During one visit, I got a little misty when I picked her up from her law school campus and reflected on when I would pick her up from preschool.
I was with her when she got the call that she’d earned a spot on the school’s mock trial team. And I’ve been there for some of her trial team competitions, including earlier this year when her school’s team captured first place in a national competition.
As I prepared to head back home from my most recent visit, she told me how much it meant to her that I’d been so present and supportive. This time, I was the one who got emotional.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned that my role in my daughters’ lives is perhaps even more critical now that they’re older. The stakes are higher, and the pressures are greater. And so, too, are the benefits of fatherhood.
It has been a joy to watch my daughters blossom, mature and endure. They’ve stumbled and fallen from some challenges, but they’ve also managed to get back up, fight for themselves and work through things.
After a rocky start, my middle daughter finished strong in her freshman year in college. She’s a fighter and also the most compassionate person I know. She feels deeply for anyone who has been wronged or oppressed, and I love that she’s beginning to recognize her own strength and resilience and that she can fight for herself with the same force and energy she displays for others.
My youngest daughter is coming out of her shell as she prepares to enter high school in the fall. While typically shy and soft-spoken, she spoke at her eighth-grade luncheon about her math teacher, who helped her gain confidence to conquer a subject that had always intimidated her. “Because when you have at least one person who believes in you, you start to believe in yourself,” she told the crowd as she choked back tears.
My conversations with my daughters are rich and substantive, giving me a clear sense of their personalities, their passions and how they view the world and their place in it. And my daughters have become my confidantes, sharing with me their advice on social media (my IG page is in serious need of help), fashion and even dating — knowing when to text, what to say and what not to say.
Fatherhood is the hardest job I’ll ever have. It’s a roller coaster ride to strike a balance between discipline and diplomacy, to set high standards but be accountable when you fail to meet them yourself, to demand excellence while also displaying compassion when your children fall short.
There are days when I feel like Super Dad, and there are others I wish I could take back. But it’s also the most rewarding and the most meaningful thing I’ll ever do with my life.
Gifts are nice for Father’s Day, but not necessary.
The sheer joy of being dad to these three amazing young women is the greatest gift I could ever have.
Alden Loury is data projects editor at WBEZ and writes a monthly column for the Chicago Sun-Times.