My husband and daughter recently went to dinner with my parents to celebrate my 45th birthday. During the meal, something was jokingly said about how my father may disapprove of certain people our little girl might choose to date in the future.
My dad immediately jumped in and said, "Oh, no. Our little Maggie can be with whomever she likes, regardless of race or gender or profession. All that matters is that she's happy."
What the what?
Where was this open-minded, accepting guy when I was dating?
This is the same man who turned away boys who came to our door to pick me up for dates because their hair was too long or their car too souped up. The man who had a fit when I dated a boy with an earring or someone of a different ethnic background than mine.
And let's not even talk about the years after my divorce when I dated women. (That's a whole other story...)
I'm someone who has never been hung up on labels, including those relating to gender or race or status. I am simply drawn to certain people. My attraction has always had more to do with intelligence, sense of humor and common interests than looks or gender or skin color. And I always knew that if I ever became a parent, I'd want the same for my child. I'd just want her to be happy.
Well, now that I'm a mother, I can see how parents can get up in arms over their child's choices. For instance, it would be very hard for me to sit quietly by and watch my daughter get involved with an active drug addict, or someone who was emotionally abusive to her.
But I'll cross that bridge if I come to it. That's not what I'm talking about here.
I don't know if it's (finally) having a grandchild after thinking he never would, or if it's nearly losing a daughter to cancer, but my dad has changed.
Now I know grandparents are always more laid back than parents. That's the rule, right? Parents stress out over every little thing their child does while the grandparents just get to love on them and spoil them.
But this is more than that.
I've noticed a fundamental shift in my father since I got cancer. It is clear that he recognizes that life is too short and too precious to worry about things that can't be controlled.
Who cares who his granddaughter may choose to love; at least she is alive and healthy and here.
I also think that my brothers and I may have gradually influenced my father over time. He may not have agreed with our choices over the years. We siblings are on the opposite end of the scale from my dad when it comes to politics and religion and pretty much anything in between. But he has always loved us unconditionally, even when we haven't seen eye to eye.
And in terms of being there for us? My dad is the person I could call in the middle of the night and he'd come to my rescue and take my side no matter what. You need to bury a body? Give me a shovel, no questions asked. He's fiercely loyal, and oh so proud of us.
Regardless of the choices and beliefs of his liberal offspring, I think my conservative dad now sees that we all turned out okay. More than okay, actually. We're productive members of society. We've all enjoyed career success. Plus, we're happy and healthy and here.
What more can a parent ask?
Images (top to bottom) via Sandi Severi/SHS Photography and the author.