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Connections

Does my dad regret not having a son?

Until recently, I had assumed the answer was yes.

Gracia Lam

What I remember about the first and only Celtics game I attended, when I was 10, is that the digital clock above the hoop moved so slowly. I really wanted to enjoy the father-daughter outing to the Garden, but I was bored: I couldn’t wait for that game to end.

As a daughter, my parents’ only child, I have always felt my dad would have been a great father to a boy. A skier and golfer who possessed a trove of local sports knowledge, he was a buttoned-up attorney and a handy craftsman who renovated our home on weekends. He was constantly involved in some sort of project, and I grew up believing he could fix anything.

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I wanted to connect with my dad, but I was girly and emotional, as far from a tomboy as they come. I wasn’t interested in playing catch in the backyard or learning how to refinish floors. My dad was confused by my adolescent friend problems, mystified by my obsession with clothes, and speechless when it came to my crushes on boys.

I felt our lack of common ground was a barrier between us, and I assumed he felt he was missing out, a little, by not having a son. When I learned I was pregnant with a boy in 2010, I was most excited to share the news with my dad.

While my dad finds great joy in being a grandfather to my son, Max, his more natural connection, to my surprise, has been with my daughter, Emma, born two years later. A timid baby, Emma shrieked when anyone other than my husband or I held her. Yet, when she was 8 months old, battling a bronchial infection while we were on vacation, it was my dad who managed to calm her by carrying her through our rental house for hours.

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To get down on her level, my dad settles onto the kitchen floor, oblivious to the adult conversations in the room. Emma adores him. With her, my dad is unguarded and at ease. His eyes shine for her in a way I’d never seen, and I initially watched them interact with astonishment. The man who calls my daughter “lovebug” seemed so different from the dad I knew.

The more I witnessed their blossoming relationship, though, the more memories I began to have about time I spent with my dad. I recalled him sprawled on the living room rug building Lincoln Log cabins for me; I remember feeling I was as tall as a tree when he hoisted me on his shoulders during long walks. I have a flash of him painstakingly painting my nails before a school dance, after I erupted in frustration when my hands were unable to steady the brush. When I fled to my parents’ home after a wrenching breakup at 25, he sat on the edge of my bed while I sobbed for what seemed like hours, assuring me that everything would eventually be OK.

Recently, I came upon a clip from my wedding video. As my dad and I stood in the church doorway preparing to walk down the aisle, the camera focused on him. He was looking at me intently, beaming a magnetic smile, his eyes full of happiness. I became teary as I recognized his expression as the same one I see come over him when he’s with Emma.

Emma, now nearly 2 years old, walks around the house saying her version of “Grampie” even when he’s not around. I love that my father and my daughter are developing a bond that is free of the unavoidable tensions and expectations of parent-child relationships. Watching them together has given me the chance to revisit the past, take another look at my dad, and appreciate some of the wonderful things I had missed.

Jaci Conry, a writer on Cape Cod, is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to connections@globe.com.

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- An Acton dad’s Southern cooking

- Weekend Fun Guide 2014

- Recipes for three spectacular New England sandwiches

- More from the Magazine

Tell your story. E-mail your 650-word essay on a relationship to connections@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.
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