I worked with another Teresa once, a woman about fifteen years my senior. We called her Terri to keep us separate.
Terri was plump and casual, methodical, patient. Her nickname among family members was Muffin. She had a slight drawl and a healing touch. She touched a lot, hugged a lot. The magic in her touch was like the soothing quality of a mother’s hands. She was very popular with the hospital patients we worked with because of her nurturing ways. She was popular with anyone who needed mothering, whether they expressed this or not.
When she touched my shoulder or forearm while telling stories about her childhood or some great lost love, her touch reined me in, induced a warm relaxed calm. She was like a soft place to curl up, to retreat.
But there was one thing I could never get past. Even at the age of 56, Terri still called her father “Daddy.”
It wasn’t just her. I’ve heard many women, usually older women, refer to their fathers as “Daddy.” I bristle when I hear it. It sounds like a desperation to be little again, helpless and coddled. It sounds way too infantile to be coming from the mouths of older women, women who have given birth, women who are grandmothers, women who shouldn’t need a daddy anymore.
My husband thinks I’m envious of the close relationships these women have or once had with their fathers. I’ve considered this carefully, but that’s not it. My mother and I were extremely close, but I never feel the urge to call her Mommy. Never. Ever.
Come to think of it, I never hear older men or women referring to their mothers as “Mommy.” Never. And why is this?
My father and I have never been especially close, despite having so much in common. There’s just always been a gap in our relationship, an inexplicable awkwardness. We write letters monthly to stay in touch. This has been our preferred mode of communication for the past twenty years. We haven’t seen each other since 1998, and I think we would both like to maintain status quo. It’s just easier on paper.
Maybe I’m missing something. Missing out. Maybe I’m callous. Maybe I don’t find the parent/child relationship all that sacred anymore. Maybe I never experienced childhood thoroughly, deeply enough. Maybe I doth protest too much.
I called my mother “Mom” or “Mama” and my father has always been “Dad.” When my parents divorced I was eight and traumatized by it, by the sudden absence of my mother, so when my father married my stepmother I latched on to her. She had a daughter a couple of years younger than me. Michelle called her mother “Mommy” so I did the same. I was literally invited by my stepmother to call her “Mommy” so it seemed natural, welcome. But I ended this practice when I turned eleven. I felt too old to be using such a babyish word. I wasn’t a baby anymore.
My mother was a career bride, married four more men. She never kept one long enough for me to give him a title, and I never considered any of the five a stepfather, much less a “Daddy.” They were just men who wanted to be with my mother. They and I were background noise to one another.
When I think of “Daddy” I think of other words like it: puppy, kitty, baby. I think of other cutesy words like itty-bitty, little, teeny, sweet, small, innocent.
Is that what “Daddy” is? A longing for innocence? A longing to be small again? To have someone take care of us? To trust them absolutely?
Whatever my reasons for bristling at the word, I’m certain I’ll continue to bristle at “Daddy” and “Mommy” if I ever hear an adult use the word. I just feel that men and women should reach a point where they’re grown up, where they separate from their childhoods. As a term of endearment, “Daddy” just seems a step too far, just as a mother calling her adult son “baby” would be a step too far (although never as bad as “Daddy”).
It sounds like regression, like a need to turn back time, to become the children we once were. So the practice is either immature, or I have unresolved issues. And if I am merely reacting to having never experienced the kind of idyllic childhood others long to return to, then my bristling anger makes a different kind of sense, as in, If I didn’t get one of those childhoods, then you don’t get to return to yours. Especially now that you’re too old. Grow the hell up.
Or something like that.