“To her the name of father was another name for love.”
~ Fanny Fern
Growing up, I was a daddy’s little girl. He loved his music…and still does. Lots of oldies, rhythm & blues, soul and jazz. His favorite instrument was the saxophone. So I painted this one for my dad. He wanted me to play the sax as a kid but band class was offered at the same period as art class, so I never learned to play. Not learning the saxophone was not the first time I felt I had let my dad down. I think he still doesn’t understand how I could have had the gold but turned it down.
Despite being born with crooked legs that resulted in me having to wear casts on both legs at age two, I grew up to be a sprinter, genes I inherited from my father. I always watched the track and field events during the Olympics with my dad because those were his favorite. We were big fans of Florence Griffith Joyner, or Flo-Jo as she was nicknamed. She had both speed and style and my dad loved watching her race. Although I enjoyed the bonding of watching track events with my dad, I never had any desire to participate in those types of sporting events. However, most people around me just assumed I wanted to race because everyone knew how fast I was. I was automatically enrolled in my school’s track team at age ten despite not having ever been at track tryouts or expressed any interest in wanting to be on the track team. The coach simply said, “Well, of course you’re on the team you’re the fastest kid in the school.” I became a bit of a celebrity because of my track and field performances, breaking records and earning trophies for my school. My dad was thrilled that his daughter was a track star and was never shy to brag about it. The only problem was…I hated it! I hated all the pressure to win, the fear of “scratching” on a long jump, the anxiety attacks before each race, and the worry about what everyone would think if I ever lost. But seeing how happy it made my father, I spoke nothing about my true feelings.
At the end of my second year doing track, my family moved back to the Marshall Islands, where both my brother and I were born. The tiny island of Kwajalein was just three miles long and half a mile wide with zero track and field programs. Before moving, my father told me that if I wasn’t ready to give up track, him and my mom would work it out so I could stay on the Mainland. I simply told my father that I missed living in the islands and very much wanted to move back, I left out the part about my relief of not having to race any more.
I thought the pressures of being an Olympic star were gone for good until one day, in seventh grade, the high school coach saw me playing basketball on an outdoor court after school. The next day he approached me and said that he was training a high school woman to compete for the Micronesian Olympics in Guam and he wanted to see if I could beat her in a 100 yard sprint. We raced. I won. Before I had any time to consider the ramifications of what I had just done, I was being ushered into the coach’s office and he was informing me about my new training schedule and when I needed to be ready to race the female contestant from a neighboring island to see which one of us would go to Guam to represent the Marshall Islands. My parents were contacted and again I became my dad’s pride and joy little girl destined for the gold medal. No one ever asked me if this was what I wanted.
Several weeks passed by until the day arrived when I was suppose to race the fastest female from Majuro, the capitol island. My dad greeted me at the school grounds as soon as the last bell rang signaling the end of the school period. He wanted me to meet the woman I was going to compete against. Without ever having thought about this moment approaching, I opened my mouth and just said, “I’m not going to do it.”
And I didn’t.
I felt like a complete failure in my dad’s eyes and we pretty much stopped talking after that.
More disappointments followed. I studied art in college instead of engineering. Then I married a farmer who lived in a shack without electricity. I gave his only grandchild a name he didn’t approve of and on and on and on I made choices in my life that were hard for my dad to understand.
Things in life seem to have a way of coming full circle. Today, many years later, my dad is my number one fan. He’s proud of my accomplishments and supportive of my aspirations, no matter how unconventional they may be. He boasts of my adventurous free spirit to his friends and it seems like once again I’m my daddy’s little girl.