My little girl had her heart broken today. It was the afternoon of her cotillion ball — a big to-do at the end of her six-week etiquette and dance class. For a little girl who grew up on a healthy diet of all things Disney princess related, this might as well have been the Royal Wedding itself. She was nervous and excited and so pretty she made my heart ache. The idea was for fathers to escort their daughters, and the dads clearly took it seriously — some were even in tuxedos. But there was my beautiful, sweet little girl…. dancing with her mother.
My ex-husband decided to go East this weekend to meet his girlfriend’s family, then lied to our children about it, but they discovered his deception somehow and arrived at my house on Friday more than a little out of sorts. My older daughter’s frustration and angst over his weekend plans only grew, until finally, 30 minutes before we were to leave for the ball, she collapsed in a puddle of tears. “How could he do this?” she cried over and over. “He promised he’d come.” What could I say? I attempted to supply soothing excuses and justifications, but she simply stared at me with a look that clearly said, “Let’s cut the bullshit, shall we mother?” So I stopped.
He has no idea, of course, what he did by not being there today. I’m sure in his mind, it’s just a silly little dance and she’ll get over it. But what he doesn’t realize, what he has never been able to appreciate, is how important a girl’s daddy is to her entire sense of self-esteem. How her daddy treats her is directly tied to her future expectations of how men should treat her. And today, what she learned is this: Men who love you will disappoint you and make you feel insignificant.
The part of this that makes my head want to explode is that he genuinely does love her. No one who knows him could doubt his love for his daughters. But the man seems to biologically unable to place someone else’s needs or feelings above his own. It is maddening. And there not one thing I can do about it.
So I did the only thing I knew to do: I rolled up my proverbial sleeves and tackled the day as a teachable moment. We had a long discussion about how hard it is for girls to find their voice and speak their truth, and how right and proper it is for her to tell her daddy how she feels. I explained the importance of doing this, not with the expectation that the other person will necessarily change his or her behavior or sooth the hurt you’re carrying, but because swallowing those feelings and carrying on is the exact same thing as granting someone permission to hurt you over and over again. My sweet 10-year-old nodded sagely and picked up the phone — not once tonight, but three times. He never answered, but I was proud of her nonetheless. And on some level, as he’s getting his ass chewed out by his daughter, I think her father will be, too. Or at least I hope so.