I'm Becoming My Father, and That's Okay

by Rachel Simon

I have never known how to describe myself without describing my parents — both of them, one of them, some combination of the two of them. Everything I have, from the pitch of my voice to the thickness of my hair, is theirs. I am an only child, and so I am the sole inheritor of all my parents’ traits: I have my mother’s nose and love of books, my father’s freckles and too-loud hiccups. Everything I say and do, even, often, what I think, can be traced back to them. For better or for worse, I am my parents’ daughter, all the way through.

When I was younger, whenever someone would point out our similarities, I'd roll my eyes. "I'm just like them, I know," I'd say, with more than a hint of irritation. Like any teenager, I often chose to see only the worst in my parents — their impatience, their short tempers, their inability to be as fun or exciting or as different as the parents of my friends. To hear that I was just like them was, if not an insult, at least a disappointment; I loved my parents dearly, but I hated the idea that I was already turning into them.

Over time, as expected, I grew out of that phase. I stopped seeing my parents' faults as their defining traits, instead, like tends to happen when one grows up, began understanding that my parents were human beings. It hit most when I left for college, and I discovered, to my surprise, how much I'd miss being with them every day.

Almost immediately, I took to calling often, craving visits home, depending on their advice for situations small and large. My mother and I, especially, found our relationship changed for the better once I moved five hours away. Of course, at times, I still got annoyed with her, but those moments were few and far between compared to all the times I was happy to see parts of her reflected in me. Her love of reading, her care for family, her devotion to friendship — these were traits I felt lucky to share. Quickly, my mother became my best friend, and I take pride every time someone tells me, "You know, you're just like your mom."

As easily as I embraced my similarities with my mother, however, I had a much harder time reconciling my father's personality with my own. I loved my dad, and we shared a good relationship. We spoke often, bonding over the latest Game of Thrones episode or pad thai dinner order, and I looked forward to seeing him on trips home just as much as I did my mother. Yet when it came to finding pride in the real traits we had in common, I struggled. Unlike my mother, with whom I share pleasant, easy things, I have some characteristics of my father that warranted a bit less enthusiasm.

For one thing, he's loud. My dad cannot hold a conversation on the phone without the entire house hearing, no matter how many times someone tells him to keep it down. For another, he's stubborn, physically unable to not have the last word in an argument, no matter who's won. He's impatient, almost neurotically so, fixated on getting things done the moment they appear on his schedule, if not before. And he's always telling me what to do, whether that be running an errand two weeks before it's needed or taking on a college minor he just knows will look good to the employers of companies he just knows I should apply to.

I hated these parts of him, not because they were faults; I'd long since come to terms with the fact that if bad phone manners and an inability to procrastinate were my father's worst traits, then I was a lucky daughter. I hated them because I recognized them as my own, the parts of myself I'd never liked and always wanted to change.

Like my father, I am stubborn to a fault, unwilling to give in even if I've accepted the fact that the other person is right. I dislike leaving things to chance, always turning in papers early and researching items long before they need to be bought. Far too often, I get comfort in the sound of my own voice, hearing myself advise someone on what to do, whether they've asked for my help or not. I have a short temper, too short, and frequently come to the conclusion that everyone has no idea what they're talking about, and really, am I the only sane one in the room?

These are my worst qualities, flaws I'm all too aware of and have every intention of fixing, one day. They are also the strongest similarities I have with my father, a person whom I love and am frustrated by in equal amounts. It's always unsettling to see your worst traits personified in another, but when that person is your father, whom you might just grow up to be, it's rattling.

At least it rattled me, for a while. I wanted him to change, so that I would, too; it was an irrational hope, of course, but I held it all the same. I blamed my father for my own imperfections, and it made me resent him.The angriest I've gotten at my father were the times when I saw myself most in him, when he cut someone off too quickly or took control of a situation without being prompted, or when he made something so much more difficult than it needed to be. I'd tell him I wanted to study writing, or work at a magazine, or transfer schools, and he'd tell me all the reasons it'd be too hard, too worthless, too much of a waste of my time. We'd get in loud, repetitive fights.

"You have no idea what you're talking about," I'd tell him, livid over his latest attempt to thwart my dreams.

"No," he'd respond, frustrated. "It's you who doesn't understand."

And so on. He made me so angry, and all I wanted to do was prove him wrong — which was exactly his point. My father fought with me because he knew I would fight back; he wanted me to defend myself, to forge a path that would be stronger than any I would've made without challenge. If I was going to be a writer, or change schools, or do something else scary and unstable, he wanted me to do it right. And that meant making sure that I was certain in my choice, that I'd heard every argument not to do it, before I made life harder for myself than it probably needed to be.

During all the time I was mad at my dad, I missed something enormous: my father's flaws are also his biggest strengths. As a lawyer, he argues for a living, and I imagine he's good; his fondness for making his case and proving others wrong (not to mention his booming voice) may be infuriating when he's talking to me, but it's likely an asset in court. His obsessive need to get tasks done wholly and fast means that if he's wrong, he has time for mistakes, to evaluate choices and think things through. And, perhaps most importantly, his habit of taking control over situations, providing advice and researching all options, becomes vital in crisis. When others are flailing, unsure of how to proceed, my father is already doing what needs to be done.

In my memories of the worst days in my family's lives, this is what I see: my father in action, filling out forms, talking to doctors, arguing on the phone and making things happen. He goes from room to room, crisis to crisis, moving mountains for those he loves and those they love. I've watched him comfort mourning relatives, power through disaster, make others feel that they are taken care of and need not worry. I've lost track of the amount of times I've heard him say, "I'll take care of this," before doing exactly that. My father is commanding, yes, but he is also smart, and sure, and invaluable.

And I am just like him, or at least, I hope I am. With my friends, I am the one who plans, who figures things out, who Googles the directions and gets us home from that party. If given enough time, I can talk my way out of any situation, and when I defend something I believe in, I give it my all. Mostly, I am confident; I have learned to take shame from no one, to be proud of the work I have done and to learn, not hide, from criticism. It took me a long time, too long, to understand that resembling my father was a blessing, not a curse, but eventually, I did. I am my father's daughter, and I am greater for it.

There are girls who grow up to be just like their mothers; I hope I do, too. But I also hope, more than anything, that I turn into my father, too, the man who irritates me to no end, but who inspires me even more. My dad is my role model, my gold standard for what a person should be. It may have taken me forever to realize, but when it comes down to it, there's no one I'd rather become.