“I’m proud of you.”

My boyfriend and I were watching TV today when his thirteen year old son texted him warning him that his twelve year old brother was upset. My boyfriend called his younger son to see what was wrong. At first his son seemed upset and angry, but after talking to his dad for a few minutes, he seemed to calm down. I guess he has a tendency to have emotional reactions and outbursts.

As they were hanging up, my boyfriend said, “I’m glad we talked about it and that you feel better. I’m proud of you.” I had to hide my tears when he hung up and looked at me.

One thing about my boyfriend that I never expected to feel is admiration for his parenting style. To be honest, I really was against dating someone with children. I do not have my own and that kind of “baggage” seemed daunting to me. I love hearing him on the phone with his sons- he is so sweet and caring.

My tears, though, were not from the surge in my heart I felt for him in that moment (although I did), but rather from those four simple words that he so casually said to his child: I’m proud of you.

Do nothing taker.

Liar, cheater, stealer.

Scumbag daughter.

You’re a LOSER.

I’m so disappointed. Again.

Selfish. You don’t care about anyone but yourself.

You’re a joke.

Why do I waste my time with you?

Those are just a few of the many, many insults and negative things my father has said to my face or on the phone or via email over the years. Although there were incidents of physical abusive, he was always SO verbally abusive.

I was (and still am) a good daughter. I am a public school educator. I own my own house and car and am financially independent. I have a Master’s Degree. I have found the strength to leave two very bad relationships and completely start over. I help my sister. I spoil my niece. I have won several teaching awards throughout my career. I have never done drugs or excessively drank. I was not (or only a little lol) promiscuous. I have taught as an adjunct professor at two universities. I’m not writing all this to brag, but rather that I have had some worthwhile and important accomplishments in my life. I am a good person, a good friend, a respectable member of society. Yet, I can’t remember a single time my father has said to me “I’m proud of you.”

I have said this before and I genuinely mean it: I know my father loves me. He tells me this every time we get off the phone or say goodbye in person. He actually writes it at the bottom of every email, even the ones belittling me. I guess that might be part of the reason I have such a convoluted concept if what love really means.

My boyfriend and I were having a conversation last night about the idea of love and our previous relationships. I have told him much about my failed marriage and how my ex husband treated me. I said, “getting divorced was so difficult because I still did love him.” And my boyfriend responded with, “after how he treated you and the things he did…why? Why did you still love him?”

The question hung in the air for a few minutes while I thought about it- to be fair, that is something I have always just said, but never thought deeply about. “I don’t know why. I guess because he was my husband?” I realize how ridiculous that sounds now. Having a “title” or a certain role in someone’s life doesn’t mean anything. At the time, I felt as if I owed him love because I was his wife and he was my husband. And I feel the same way about my dad…I love him because he is my father (it kind of makes more sense to say I love him in spite of him being my father).

Hearing my boyfriend so effortlessly say those magic words to his son, with no agenda and with sincerity, was bittersweet. I love that he is the kind of man who talks to his children and helps them see value in themselves. I saw a quote recently: “when you criticize your child, you don’t make them hate you, you make them hate themselves.” I’m over 40 years old now. It took time (and therapy!), but I know my worth and am pleased with my accomplishments. I no longer need my father’s approval. But I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t freaking love to just once hear him say, “I’m proud of you.”