I was sitting on a secret for almost a week before I decided to call my father. He had noticed I was distant the past few months, but I didn’t let on that it was anything more than stress at work, stress with the kids, or the usual busyness of life. I could tell he wasn’t buying it when his replies became “Okay, honey, just know I’m always here for you.” It was ripping my heart out that I hadn’t told him yet, but I just wasn’t ready for it to be real.
So the day that my then husband and I chose to tell our parents about our separation, well, let’s just say it was dreaded. I called the man who had been the one person in my whole life who believed in me. Not the only person, but the constant. As the phone rang, one after another, after another, I almost hung up, as if it was a sign that today wasn’t the day. The lump in my throat held the biggest disappointment my father would ever know.
One thing I had already decided was that I would not be telling him I was in love with a woman. I wanted to be honest with my father that day, not kill him. I fought back the tears as I heard the last ring cut short, and his voice say, “Hello?”
The pitch of his voice told me he was surprised to see my call coming through. Being that I used to call or text him every day, you can only imagine the assumptions he had to play with when I ghosted him. I gathered my courage and prepared to let my father down. The man who I built my entire world around. The only man I ever sought approval from. My biggest cheerleader was about to find out that his perfect daughter was flawed.
I swallowed the lump in my throat rather than choke on it and held the tears back for the moment and told my dad that things weren’t quite what they seemed. My marriage had fallen apart, and I no longer wanted to be married anymore.
The silence killed me. My stepmother was also on the line, and I kept imagining the looks they were exchanging on the other end of the telephone. I knew my father was trying to wrap his head around what I was saying as I stammered through my explanation, broken and incapable of making sense. He read my desperation and fear. Desperate to be told it would “be okay,” and fearing that he wouldn’t love me anymore.
So he began to speak. He spoke slowly and clearly. Anyone who knows my father knows that he’s a man of few words when it comes to feelings. He prefers to skip over that part and acknowledge emotions in short spurts, preferably during milestone moments. But when it comes to me, he’s all-in 365 days a year. There’s no holding back with his baby girl.
“Oh, honey, I knew something was going on. I thought you might be having a hard time. I am quite surprised and have many questions, but that will wait for another time. I love you, honey, and nothing will ever change that. And you need to be happy. Life is too short not to be. I will always love you, okay?”
My father has been married to his third wife for 20-plus years. Oftentimes, I speak with him about things that he’s not experienced in, but this, he’d been here before. He had experience here, and his love and understanding were the most pure that I’d ever felt.
In that conversation, he didn’t break because he knew I was breaking. He didn’t pry because he knew there was more to the story than I was ready to share. And he didn’t react because he knew I was anticipating the worst.
Two weeks later, I told him I was in love with a woman I worked with. But to be honest, I was more nervous to tell him about my separation than I was about switching teams. He loved my ex-husband very much and still does. I wasn’t the only one married to him, so was my whole family. This wasn’t just my loss or his loss — we all lost.
So when I came out about Her, I was prepared for shock and dismay. I was never fearful of disapproval because my younger sister is gay, and my father has been nothing but accepting. But his reaction floored me. I cried from sheer unexpectedness. He said to me, “Yeah, I figured.”
“I’m sorry, what?! What do you mean, you figured?”
He went on to shock me over and over again during that conversation. He gave me some of the best advice I have ever been given, and he single-handedly saved my life in the 30 minutes we spoke. Because what I didn’t know was that I was about to embark on the hardest year of my life. I was going to need him, his compassionate heart, his open ear, his steady shoulder, and all of his love every single day. I was going to need a best friend. When I no longer had one, he became my best friend. I was going to need my daddy in ways I had never needed him and ways he couldn’t have imagined he’d be needed. And I was going to need to reflect back on that conversation just to get through the days to come.
To say he rose to the challenge of fatherhood would be an understatement. I know he had days of sadness, confusion, and helplessness surrounding my divorce. I know he had questions that he waited months sometimes to have answered. I know he had an opinion on more than one occasion, but I would never know it. Not one time did he make me feel like I owed him anything in the process. He let me go to him and stopped everything to be there for me when I did.
He gave me the gift of acceptance, unconditional love, and joy. I have always been close with my dad, but he has truly been the most unexpected joy of this whole godawful thing called divorce.
Just the other day, I called him with a lump in my throat. That lump disappeared when I heard his voice and cried my eyes out. He calmed me down, normalized all of my feelings, and said, “You need to come see me. You need your daddy.”
“Yes, Daddy, I need you. I will always need you.”
This post originally appeared on Appetite for Honesty.