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the importance of "throwing like a boy"
by jane lawson

My 89-year-old father died last month.

Where do I begin to describe the feelings I have about him, about the importance of our relationship, and the transition that his passing has for me?

Dad was always surrounded by women. He was raised by his mother and her two sisters, married at 20, had three daughters, and was cared for by three women after his wife of 50 years (my mother) died.

He always prided himself on looking good to the neighbors. Yet he was "all man". He was a natural athlete and excelled in at least four sports. He loved to drink a few beers with the boys. He was greatly disappointed that I, his youngest child, was another girl. He strived to make a boy of me.

One of the ways I could really get his attention was to excel in sports and at school. He reveled in my accomplishments and relived his youth through my early successes in tennis. We had this ritual where he would say, “Janie, show them how you can throw like a boy!” And I would dutifully mime a pitcher’s full-armed throwing motion for whoever happened to be around. He believed that girls would only limply push a ball out from their bodies without the full benefit of the shoulder movement unless instructed by a man on how to do it correctly.

I loved being his “son” and was only vaguely aware that my older sisters, who also played tennis seriously, had other interests as well and were not as committed to pleasing Dad.

Of course my fantasy time with Dad came to an end with adolescence. I was a moody teen, and Dad and I grew farther and farther apart. By the end of the sixties, we couldn’t have been more polarized politically and emotionally. I have experienced his disappointment with me (and mine with him) as a nagging voice inside my head for years.

And yet, those early lessons he taught helped mold me in ways that are hard to articulate.

The last week of his life was a time of tremendous importance for all of us. Dad’s condition had been deteriorating for some years, and my sisters and I were able to have enough advance notice to gather from around the country to spend all of those last precious moments with him.

When I arrived in Ohio from Asheville, Dad was in bed in the nursing home weakened and emaciated. My sister Anne was at his bedside, holding his hand. Dad saw me and reached out to me, saying, “Look! There’s my baby girl!” It was a moment I’ll never forget.

Over the next few days, my sister Lynne also arrived and other family members and friends came by to say farewell. Sitting by his side, day after day, I couldn’t help but feel like we were going through a type of birthing. It felt like labor. There was the strongest sense of peace and love radiating around our father, unlike anything I had ever experienced before. My sisters and I were able to touch him, kiss him, thank him, sing to him, pray together, laugh, and cry. We could feel the presence of our mother in the room. It was incredible.

Though Dad and I had our share of “issues,” those last days were a gift that helped me to let go of the lingering resentments and anger that had been brewing over the years. I could clearly feel the love that existed between us. I could appreciate the sacrifices he had made to provide for me.

Being orphaned at 53 is a bittersweet feeling. I miss him now, more than I did when he was alive and we were living in different states. Writing this on Mother’s Day, I want to say, “Thank you, Dad, for all the gifts, the ‘good’ ones and the challenging ones. Thank you for helping me to become the woman that I am now. Thank you for inspiring in me the will to succeed. Thank you for giving me the sense that it is important to be strong. Thank you for loving me even though we disagreed on just about everything. Thank you for teaching me how to throw like a boy.”

Jane Lawson, MEd, LPC, MBA is a Licensed Professional Counselor and movement therapist in private practice in Asheville.

[ janelawson@bellsouth.net; bodyimagetherapy.com; 828-712-7797 ] 

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