I was conceived in the era before ultrasound. The doctors thought I was a boy because my heartbeat was strong. Everyone had some quick adjustments to make when I arrived in the delivery room as a girl. My dad, a seminary student at the time, explained my unexpected sex change in the church bulletin as "God having other plans."
It became clear that God also had a sense of humor when two more daughters followed and my dad found himself surrounded. We had a hobby farm, with a few dogs, some sheep, two calves, and a few horses. Even our pets were female. Dad was sorely outnumbered, but fortunately had a good nature that even saw him through the years of raising three emotive teenage daughters.
My dad worked hard and was often late for dinner, but he prized family above anything else he could provide. He taught me that friends come and go, but family is forever.
When we were little, my sisters and I would visit him at work, first pressing our noses to the glass window outside his office to see if he had time to see us. He would look up from behind his desk and break into a big smile. That was the signal for us to scramble into the building and down the hall to his office.
He would meet us at his doorway, crouch down and wrap us up in a bear hug. As a daughter, I never felt so safe as when those big arms were around me. My own daughter is now 11, and she and her 9-year-old brother get those same swallowing hugs from their grandpa.
I have great memories of hard-earned family vacations – camping, cross-country road trips, and ice-fishing adventures. Dad used these times to pass along to us the essential skills of life. I can still remember the slippery feel of fish guts on my cold fingers as Dad taught me to clean our catch with his hand-carved filet knife.
He challenged me to get outdoors and to be a full participant in life. I can remember when I became a teenager and didn't think it was cool to be life's participant. I pouted my way through many outings – entire vacations even – with a bad attitude and disrespectful words. My dad may have been at his wit's end, but he was there through all of it.
As a grown woman, I'm not afraid of snakes or guts or getting dirty. I now know that teenage hormones run their course and that bad feelings pass with time, when someone loves you through them.
As a child, my dad could fix just about anything – a bicycle tire, a leaky faucet, and bad grammar on my English essay. He had a way of solving problems, or re-stating things so they didn't feel like problems anymore.
He taught me that "happy was my choice" and framed a poem for me on the subject to remind me. Some things he wasn't able to fix. Like the time when I was 15 and my horse became so sick that I couldn't ride her anymore. Like the time years later when I went through a divorce, and came home to cry.
My dad woke up at 3 a.m. and met me at the kitchen table. He just knew. I learned from him that some things can't be fixed once broken, and then it's just best to share your pain together.
There are few stronger influences in a daughter's life than the role of a father. Some cultures say that it is the father that calls forth the identity of his daughter and provides her the confidence to meet the challenges of life.
If I have strong relationships, it is because my dad taught me that you don't give up on those you care about. If I am determined, it is because my dad showed me that you can make a difference if you persevere. If I am happy, it has a lot to do with a father who showed me that life sometimes presents what you don't expect, and that how you respond is up to you.
Looking back, I say my heartbeat was strong, even from the womb, because my dad loved me with a great love. He taught me that love isn't something you do, but who you are.
Fast-forward almost four decades. On this Father's Day, my dad will be surrounded by my mom, his three daughters, our spouses, and eight grandchildren. When my middle sister delivers this fall, my dad will have the nine grandchildren he always wanted (enough for a baseball team). And thanks to this era of high-definition ultrasounds, we already know that then, the boys in our family will outnumber the girls.
Angela Kays-Burden is a licensed master social worker.