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You would think that at 27 years old I would have been in at least one serious relationship by now, right? But I haven’t. My girlfriends often make fun of my non-committal ways and joke, “Ess, you got male tendencies.” The reason for not having a few good love stories like most girls my age though is beyond my control. It’s all my dad’s fault. As far back as I can remember it’s been evident that my father adores my mother with everything in him. He’s never been one to beam with emotion. In fact, the two times I saw him cry, at my grandma’s funeral and when he spoke about how happy he was for his sister to get married, it was more like a Denzel one tear down the cheek Glory moment. With my siblings and me, he shows his love by joking around and making us laugh. With Mom, he’s an action guy—which I love and appreciate more than I ever knew I would.

The very first time Mom saw Dad was at church, and she told her best friend, “That man is going to be my husband!” Dad, engaged to someone else at the time, and Mom were partnered for a church assignment, and short story shorter, he broke his engagement so that they could start dating. When they met, Mom was 24, a divorced mother of two, going to Virginia State University and living in the projects of Richmond. Dad was a 28-year-old Army officer with a new Volvo and no kids. They dated for three months and he proposed. He told her, “I want your children to be my children, and I want your bills to be my bills.” He promised she’d never have to work if she didn’t want to, and the only thing she had to do was finish school so she’d be able to provide for my sisters if anything ever happened to him. That was 30 years ago and he’s done more than kept his word.

Mom hasn’t worked in an office since I was a baby, but has held down the house, raised four kids, and served as first lady to our church while also working her own ministry. Dad has supported every decision and waits for opportunities to brag on her; I swear he finds ways to tie her into conversations that have absolutely nothing to do with her. Never one to be intimidated by Mom’s brilliance or strong personality, he’s always encouraged it and when asked about his unwavering support, he says, “As head of a family, the man’s responsibility is not to control his wife. But to see all she has to offer and help her realize her potential.” One of my fondest memories is a chat he and I had a few years back. My psychology professor gave one of those explore your family assignments, so I asked him, “Daddy, why have I never heard you say stepchildren like most blended families when you talk about Stacy and ‘Kenzie?” He answered, “How could I have fully embraced your mom without fully embracing the extensions of her? I love them completely, so there is no step.” I couldn’t wait to go back to class and brag on how deep and loving my dad was! My whole life, I’ve witnessed his smallest gestures, like buying her peanut M&M’s whenever she sends him to the grocer for milk, to the largest, like being her solid rock as she conquers multiple sclerosis. And that’s why I am who I am.

I’ve been called difficult, demanding, and anti-romantic, but those labels couldn’t be more untrue. I’m very much the opposite, thanks to my dad. I know that fairy tale love can be real love. I know that faithful men are out there. I know that I don’t have to come perfect, and there’s someone who will see me as if I am. I know that when I’m ready, I can have pure, passionate Notebook kind of love with the man God predestined for me before I took my first breath. I know these things because with his love, Daddy taught me so.

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