I always thought “fatherless daughters” was a term reserved for children who lose their fathers, or those who never had a father in their life from the beginning. I didn’t think this term applied to me. I lost my father at 25 and never considered myself as a “fatherless daughter.” I didn’t realize the impact his loss had on my life and my relationships until a few years ago on a rainy day in NYC, when I was talking with Denna Babul R.N. and Dr. Karin Luise about their book, The Fatherless Daughter Project: Understanding Our Losses and Reclaiming Our Lives. They are easy to talk to, and before I knew it, I was sharing my story about the loss of my dad and I had just met these women. It’s a story few people know about me.
Today I am 46. I moved with my family to New York City from Pakistan when I was 12. My father was a well-known journalist in Pakistan but struggled to find his place in America. When I was 18, my father decided to take a political role back in Pakistan. He moved back to help elect the first woman Prime Minister of a Muslim country, and I am really proud of this role in that historic event. I stayed in the States with my mother and brother for high school and college. I visited him in Pakistan and loved the time we spent together. I told myself my dad was just doing his job, and I knew he adored me, but on some level it also felt like abandonment. I just didn’t know it at the time.
In my twenties, I met another love of my life—my husband John. We had a short courtship and started planning a big wedding. That’s when my father unexpectedly passed away. I was devastated. Filled with grief, I opted for a smaller wedding ceremony.
In the back of my mind, I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop in my marriage. I felt my husband would also leave me. I would say things like, “When we break up . . .” to which my husband always shook his head and said, “I am not going anywhere.”
Then one day—close to ten years into our marriage—we attended a friend’s wedding. My father was really on my mind that day, and I felt uneasy. After the ceremony, I needed to go to the ladies’ room, which was downstairs in the dark church basement. I really did not want to go alone, so I asked my husband to come with me. When we got there, I felt silly and told him he could go back to the reception. I would be fine.
I walked into the restroom. When I came out, he was waiting for me. Time seemed to stand still. I said, “What are you doing here?” He looked me in my eyes and said, “I wouldn’t leave you.” It was at that moment, almost fifteen years after the loss of my father, that I realized I had been waiting all of this time to lose him just like I lost my father. With those four words, “I wouldn’t leave you,” I let go. I let go of the pain of losing my father, and I knew I had a second chance for real love.
My sense of loss and my fear of abandonment intensified as my husband expressed his love for me. My gut told me not to trust in forever, because men leave. Although I had long since dealt with the loss of my father, my fear of losing someone I cherished and loved continued to play a role in my marriage. When your dad dies suddenly, the loss comes out of nowhere, and your world is turned upside down. In an instant, life is changed, and you are changed. With love comes the risk of loss, and this is sometimes a reality we have to relearn.
I would give anything to sit down with my dad again and have just one more conversation. Instead, I try to live my life in a way that honors how he lived his. My adulthood as a fatherless daughter has taught me:
- To live in the present
- To cherish the smallest of moments
- To live boldly, getting lots of life in my days
- To value people above things
- To acknowledge fear but to persevere, always
- To be passionate about your work because how we spend our time is so valuable
- To be selfless and care for others
- To love even though it might break your heart
I am happy to report that my husband has never left. We’ve been married for 24 years, more in love today than ever. He is the absolute best father, and my prayer for our girls is that they enjoy his love and guidance until they are old and grey. There is nothing like a father who has your back.
On this Father’s Day, I want to connect with the women, like me, who lost their fathers long before we were ready to lose them. And to all the dads out there, thank you. Your role is very significant. Your presence will still be felt long after you are gone.
This blog was adapted in part by an excerpt from the book, The Fatherless Daughter Project: Understanding Our Losses and Reclaiming Our Lives, by Denna Babul R.N. and Dr. Karin Luise, which is now available.
© 2016 Fauzia Burke, author of Online Marketing for Busy Authors (Berrett-Koehler, April 2016)