At age eighteen, Ainsley left her small Midwestern hometown and began life at an Ivy League college. She enjoyed her first year, but during her second year, something shifted inside her. Now, at age fifty-one, she still can’t explain why she changed that year.
During her sophomore year, Ainsley began acting wild. She drank too much, and was eventually kicked out of school. She had to call her mother and father and tell them that she was returning home. She packed up her posters, books, and disappointment, and drove home alone.
Ainsley spent the next twenty-four hours behind the wheel of her Jeep, frightened, relieved, and anxious. What would her parents say? Would they cry, scream, or both? In the midst of her wondering, something felt peculiarly good. She didn’t know how or why, but she wanted her parents to help her figure out life for the next six months.
When she finally parked her car in the driveway of her parents’ house, she say her dad’s Chevy in the garage. No one met her outside. She walked up the steps and peered like a stranger through the window to see them before they saw her. They were drinking coffee in the kitchen. Somehow this made her feel more in charge.
The door was unlocked. Ainsley said that the next few minutes changed her life forever. As she pushed the door open, she saw her mother first, her face puffy and red from crying. She looked tired, angry and sad. Ainsley went to her and hugged her.
Then she saw the look on her father’s face. Anticipating anger and disappointment, she was confused by his expression. He looked strangely calm and kind. She hugged him and wanted to cry but she couldn’t.
Her mother shouted that Ainsley had been foolish. She had thrown away her future. She had shamed their family. Ainsley stood quietly and listened. Then, in the middle of her mother’s lecture, her father came toward her and whispered, “Are you all right?” She burst into tears.
Ainsley realized at that moment that her father knew her better than she knew herself. While she felt confused, she understood that he saw right through her; he recognized, as no one else could, that smething was broken inside the girl he cherished. Ainsely’s father didn’t make her work the night shift at McDonald’s or the local gas station. He waited, listened, and he kept his hurt to himself. He wasn’t concerned with what family and friends would think. He didn’t worry about how the expulsion would change her future. He was worried about her.
“You can’t imagine how that felt,” Ainsley told me. “It was over thirty years ago. The love I felt from him is as fresh and new as it was then. I knew he loved me. Sure, he was proud of me, but that was always on the periphery of our relationship. He didn’t let his disappointment or anger ever supersede his love. In those moments after I walked through the door, I got a glimpse of who I was in his eyes. I knew then that I, not what I accomplished, was what he cherished.” She stopped abruptly and her nose and cheeks turned red. She smiled through a few plump tears and shook her head, still marveling at disbelief at the man she loved and missed so dearly.
Her father made the difference in her life. You will make the difference in your daughter’s life. You have to–because, unfortunately, we have a popular culture that’s not healthy for girls and young women, and there is only one thing that stands between it and your daughter. You.
(excerpt taken from Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters)