This morning, like every morning, I poked my computer “on” and shuffled into the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee. Sitting in my favorite mug next to the coffee maker was a package of Reese’s peanut butter hearts. I scampered into the living room to find my dad. “Thank you!” I trilled. “Happy Valentine’s Day!” He just grinned. “I tried to get you a heart-shaped box of chocolates,” he said, “but I think I waited too long because they already had Easter candy out last night.”
My dad does this every year and every year it makes me really happy to be his daughter. Even the years when I’ve been at college, living in an apartment on my own or studying abroad in Europe, Dad has made sure I had a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Yes, it might sound loser-ish, but to me it’s totally sweet: my dad is my Valentine. I don’t mean for this to be creepy, but I am being sincere. My dad as a Valentine has never disappointed.
Honestly, I’m not Valentine’s Day acolyte. I don’t get excited about it weeks in advance the way I do with Christmas. That’s partly because I believe relationships are healthier when couples are romantic year round, not just one day of the year. But that’s also partly because I’ve always been the only one whose done super-sweet things on Valentine’s Day. I can’t even remember what Ex-Mr. Jessica did for me last year, but I recall taking him to a burlesque brunch. In high school, I got a copy of my boyfriend’s schedule and put a rose on his teachers’ desks to give to him at the beginning of every class. It’s a day where I usually do lots of sweet things for a guy, but don’t receive anything sweet in return.
Except, that is, from my dad.
In fact, my dad has always treated me better than any boyfriend ever has. I learned that the hard way, but I learned it early: five years ago, I had my first big heartbreak with a guy I began dating during my senior year of college. We bickered all the time and had power struggles more than we had a nurturing relationship. He lived in New York City while I lived in Connecticut, where I worked as a newspaper reporter. One weekend I took the train into the city to see him and took a cab to his apartment. We had sex and then ordered takeout sushi, which I paid for. Then he insulted my sweater. (He always criticized the way I dressed.) Then he complained about how I’d accidentally used all the soy sauce. I told him to stop criticizing me so much. And then he dumped me — after all that money I’d spent to spend time with him that day and all that travel, he dumped me.
I put myself into a taxi cab back to the train station sobbing. Taken aback as I was, I sobbed and panicked the rest of the weekend. That was the first terrible breakup I’d ever had and I got caught in that really dangerous spiral of thinking you can beg the other person into reconsidering. I really worked myself into a state. The next morning at my parents’ house, I woke up at some godforsaken time that I never usually see, like 5 a.m.
And I barfed all over my bed sheets.
I walked into my parents’ bedroom and my father awoke as he heard me enter, crying. He stripped my sheets for me and re-made my bed. I sat on a couch and continued crying, humiliated that I’d gotten so upset that I’d literally made myself sick.
That’s when I realized I needed a guy who loved me like my dad does. I didn’t need a boyfriend who would criticize my sweater. I didn’t need a boyfriend who would have sex with me and then dump me an hour later. I needed a guy who loved me enough to clean up my puke-filled sheets. It was that easy.
I know that telling a story about puke and Valentine’s Day is weird. I know there’s some cynical readers who are probably thinking, What a spoiled brat daddy’s girl. But you know what? I don’t care. I don’t have a Valentine this year, no one who is taking me out to dinner, sending me a bouquet of roses, or gifting me a robin’s egg blue box from Tiffany’s.
But I do have a package of heart-shaped chocolates and a guy who loves me. He just happens to be my dad.