WHAT MY DAD TAUGHT ME ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
Growing up, I learned to never receive or give anything less than the love he so willingly showered upon me.
When I entered college, I felt this unnecessary pressure to optimize every minute of every day in the hopes of securing a better future. So even though my classes ended early, I either spent hours working on requirements in the study hall or attending org meetings. By the time I was finished with all my errands for the day, my dad would be done with work and on standby to pick me up and take me home. Those car conversations eventually became a pillar of our relationship.
My dad was often the first person to hear about how my day went. He knew of every horrible test score and misunderstanding within my friend group, and liked weighing in on campus trends and issues. And as if those weren’t heavy enough already, he also answered my latest burning questions on the inner workings of the male psyche. I admittedly had no experience, having come from a school where the only members of the opposite sex were creepy teachers and the celebrities on the back of my binder. I found it difficult to establish eye contact with a boy, never mind attempt to strike a conversation with one; in fact, I could not distinguish basic human decency from romantic advances.
And so, I turned these moments with my dad into a crash course of sorts - to understand how boys worked in the hopes of learning how to love them. Thankfully, my dad was very open about his thoughts, likening the whole process of dating to “diving headfirst into the unknown” even if modern-day couples would agree that his stories seemed rather prehistoric. According to him, common activities back in the day included a quick snack, a movie, a stroll in the park, or a journey to the ice cream parlor. “The most intense we could possibly get would be a trip to the weekend disco! Or a party!” he would say, with a slight smile on his face. “But nothing like the ones kids have these days. We only had punch, juice, and a lot of dancing!”
One of his favorite lectures was on the importance of courtship in any budding relationship. “It’s the chance afforded to both parties to assess if they’re really what the other is looking for,” he said. “So if the woman is swept off her feet instantly, you could have couples who barely know each other and break up as soon as things get ugly.” He also liked stressing how important parental approval is before progressing to the next stage, pointing out that “it’s easy to chase after someone in school, to pursue her for the thrill of it. But to go through the trouble of meeting her parents? That means he’s serious.”
In additional sessions, I have also asked my dad for his two cents on online dating (“There wouldn’t be a need for such platforms if people had no voids to fill”), making the first move as a girl (“If you’re looking for something serious, don’t do it”), and open relationships (“Why?! I just… why… ”). Though he seemed like the typical ultra-conservative Filipino dad based on his views, he surprisingly welcomed stories about crushes with a listening ear and even some light teasing. My dad was updated on everyone I liked: from the photographer of the school paper to the unsuspecting guy who sat across me in the library that one time. The farthest I could go with any of them was small talk while buying food at the cafeteria but I would pick apart these scant interactions and ask what those could possibly mean. He would laugh heartily at me and offer his go-to suggestion in jest. “Now is seriously not the time to look for a partner! You just entered the most carefree stage of your life,” he’d exclaim. “All you have to do at this point is study and meet people and have fun!”
As I grew older though, I started to notice a change in his reactions towards my questions and experiences. He began to sound rather resigned, perhaps even weary, but I dismissed it, thinking I was just making something out of nothing. But my suspicions were confirmed during the first few months of lockdown: I was itching to take on a big project that took place outside of my computer screen and decided to redecorate our living room. I discussed my plans with my parents and assembled a Pinterest board of pegs so painstakingly that my mom jokingly told my dad it seemed like I was preparing for a visit from a suitor. He replied to this with a stern “no” that took her aback.
Thinking it was just an isolated incident, I attempted to liven up our lunchtime chatter one day with a story of a boy who was making a pass at me. The boy had seemed nice, but I didn’t have the time nor the energy to entertain his clumsy attempts at flirtation. I expected my dad to nod in agreement, if not burst into laughter - only for him to make no comment at all and go outside to light himself a cigarette. After minutes of total radio silence, he made a short quip in acknowledgment then moved on to a completely different topic.
It wasn’t like him to be indifferent to what I had to say; he used to approach our discussions with an expert blend of insight and heart. So what had I done to cause this sudden shift in his behavior? Grow up, apparently. When I asked my mom for her thoughts, she said he had mentioned he was simply not ready to let go of me just yet.
Yes, despite being a 20-year-old just a few years shy of a college degree and a one-way ticket to the real world, I’m still his little girl. Fathers are naturally providers and protectors when it comes to their daughters, and mine was no exception. In fact, he went above and beyond to make me feel happy, loved, and most importantly, secure. “Anything for baby”,has been his cheerful refrain my entire life. He was to the rescue in times of both minor inconveniences and full-blown existential crises. But though I have asked him to fix many a broken toy through the years, it turns out he isn’t prepared to mend a broken heart. My dad knows intellectually that every relationship comes packaged with pain in varying amounts, butthe thought of not being able to save me from any of it terrifies him.
I honestly wish he didn’t have to be so afraid. (I’m already scared enough for the both of us anyway.) Because even though I admit I’ve had some pretty questionable crushes, I’m not picking just anybody when it comes down to the real deal. He’d have to live up to the standard my dad set for me from a very young age. My dad’s love was and continues to be strong and unconditional, unwavering despite the circumstance, and he has always made sure it manifested in different ways - like the way he would save the best bits of any viand for me, or turn off his own WiFi so my video calls would stop lagging.
I felt it when he put me on a pedestal when I was young, a wonder kid who was wise beyond her years and could do no wrong - more so when I inevitably jumped off that platform and made my fair share of mistakes, because he treated me just the same. I thank him for teaching me to never receive or give anything less than the love he was always so willing to lavish upon me.
I’d like to think that with the rest of the school year set within the confines of Zoom squares and discussion boards, my dad can still afford to sleep peacefully at night. In fact, it’s odd that I’ve spoken so extensively about dating when I have a staggering zero romantic prospects to choose from. To be honest, I probably scared off the very few that may be lurking around the corner by writing this article. My love life is definitely not the type to thrive in an online setting: call me old-fashioned but I still put a premium on face-to-face interaction. So for now, I’ll be looking forward to going back on campus, like I have been for the past eight months (!!!) now - one where I can experience college life in both its glory and mundanity, then board my car and tell my dad about how my day went.