That’s the Way Life Goes Sometimes

Some years ago, I read a most touching letter to a magazine editor written by a fourteen-year-old girl named Catherine. She described an extremely painful moment of her life and titled it, "That's the Way Life Goes Sometimes." This is what she wrote:

When I was 10, my parents got a divorce. Naturally, my father told me about it, because he was my favorite. [Notice that Catherine did not say, "I was his favorite."]

"Honey, I know it's been kind of bad for you these past few days, and I don't want to make it worse, but there's something I have to tell you. Honey, your mother and I got a divorce."
"But, Daddy!"
"Well, I know you don't want this, but it has to be done. Now, your mother and I just don't get along like we used to. I'm already packed, and my plane is leaving in half an hour."
"But, Daddy, why do you have to leave?"
"Well, honey, your mother and I can't live together anymore."
"Well, I know that, but I meant, why do you have to leave town?"
"Oh, well, I got [sic] someone waiting for me in Minnesota."
"But, Daddy, will I ever see you again?"
"Oh, sure you will, honey. We'll work something out."
"But what? I mean, you'll be living in Minnesota, and I'll be living here in Pennsylvania."
"Well, maybe your mother will agree to your spending two weeks in the summer with me and two weeks in the winter."

"Why not more often?"

"Well, I don't even think she'll agree to two weeks in the summer and two weeks in the winter, much less more."

"Well, it can't hurt to try."

"I know, honey, but we'll have to work it out later. Now, my plane leaves in 20 minutes, and I've got to get to the airport. Now, I'm gonna go get my luggage, and I want you to go to your room, so you don't have to watch me. And no long good-byes either."

"Okay, Daddy. Good-bye. Don't forget to write me."
"I won't. Now, good-bye. Now, go to your room."
"Okay, Daddy. Daddy, I don't want you to go."
"I know, honey, but I have to."

"Well, you wouldn't understand."
"Yes, I would."
"No, you wouldn't."
"Oh, well. Good-bye."

"Good-bye. Now go to your room, and hurry up."
"Okay. Well, I guess that's the way life goes sometimes."
"Yes, honey, that's the way life goes sometimes."

After my father walked out that door, I never heard from him again.

It is still painful to read Catherine's words, written more than thirty years after her father left home. I wonder if she still thinks about the father who abandoned her for a new flame in Minnesota. I wonder how that devastating experience affected the remainder of Catherine's teen years, her choice of a husband, and her life today. I wonder if her dad has any regrets about breaking his little girl's heart so long ago. We can only wonder, but I think I know. Yes, I'm sure I know.

Let's consider how family dynamics tend to play out at home and explain why daughters often come out on the short end of things. First, husbands understand that their wives have certain romantic needs that are different and more urgent than their own. Not all men seek to meet those needs, of course, but they have certainly heard about them.

Likewise, husbands who are fathers usually understand that it is their responsibility to teach their boys to be men. Mothers are not equipped to do that job, and it's up to dads to transmit the meaning of masculinity to their sons. Again, men may or may not be willing to accept that assignment, but they at least know they should.

That brings us to an understanding of the position girls usually hold in the family. Pay attention now, because I am about to tell you something that I consider to be of prime importance: daughters tend to be third in line for the attention of the man of the family. I have drawn that conclusion after many years of working with families. I'll say it again for emphasis: fathers know intuitively that their boys require special attention, discipline, and leadership, but they are often unaware of how desperately their daughters also need them. Some dads apparently see this yearning for affirmation among girls as the exclusive responsibility of mothers. The task of Bringing Up Girls is often viewed by dads as "women's work."

It is tough enough for men to understand their wives at times, much less these bubbly little females who are constantly reaching for them. Let me say again that girls need their fathers as much as boys do. This will be a revolutionary thought for some guys, but careful research reveals that it is dead on the money.

Book: Bringing Up Girls

By Dr. James Dobson

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