The year after my father’s death turned out to be the best year of my life so far. It had nothing to do with my father no longer living and everything to do with my turning 30 just two weeks after his death.
I had never been so excited to turn a certain age. I knew I would get my license when I turned 16 and that I would “start drinking” when I was 21, but I was so much more thrilled to turn 30 because I knew it would afford me something priceless: confidence at a magnitude that I had never experienced.
High on that rush of confidence, last summer, I quit my job. I told my colleagues that, even though I enjoyed the work we did investing in private equity funds, I was leaving the company to think about what I really wanted to do with my career because I didn’t quite fit in at the firm. I was not lying to my colleagues, but it is more truthful that I left because my work situation started to remind me of my childhood.
As a kid, I looked on as my dad hugged, kissed, and tickled my older sisters while failing to acknowledge that I was sitting in the same room. I metaphorically tiptoed around the house, not wanting to make any type of ruckus that would incite my father to violence. I felt relieved when I didn’t have to talk to him after he and my mom separated because talking to him reminded me of how inadequate he made me feel and made me wonder why I wasn’t good enough to be loved by him.
At work, I looked on as my white male colleagues with bachelor’s degrees were assigned my post-MBA level work while I was told to be more “engaged.” I metaphorically tap-danced for my firm’s partners so they wouldn’t be incited to include a small mistake on my performance review and, therefore, lower my bonus. I was relieved when I didn’t have to work with certain partners, who spoke to me in such a condescending fashion that daily I had to remind myself that I graduated from Georgetown twice, so I must possess some amount of intelligence.
But then I remembered that I was 30. I was not an eight-year-old little girl who couldn’t help herself anymore. I had already been mistreated by my father. I had been made to feel as if I didn’t belong in my own home. Most importantly, I had already been to high school; I didn’t participate in clique politics when I was 16, and I was certainly not going to do it at 30.
So I walked away from my job (and steady income) with the confidence of a 30-year-old woman, to honor my self-worth. I decided to write a memoir about my relationship with my father, which I hope will help heal others who have or had an emotionally abusive or distant parent.
By the age of 30, I had traveled to ten countries. I had seen Cuban cigar vendors hustling in Mexico, danced to “Black music” with Italian boys in Rome, and been the first dark-skinned person encountered by some Inner Mongolians who were also visiting Beijing. I knew that I deserved respect from my father and my bosses because each person I met in every part of the world deserved my respect, and I am just as much of a person as they are.
To me, 30 was the real beginning of adulthood, when I finally saw that I am just as valuable as others.
Thirty meant setting aside the mistakes and habits (mostly alcohol-related for both) of my twenties, and stepping into who I really am. It meant walking with confidence in flat shoes because my knees were screaming, “No more heels, for the love of God!” It meant not being ashamed to leave the house without make-up because I know that every stripe I’ve earned is beautiful.
Thirty was a crown. Thirty was a shield. Thirty was a bullhorn through which I spoke up.
I was a little bit sad to let 30 go, but, of course, I want to keep living life, to see how much more like a bottle of fine wine I become with age. Thirty-one has been lovely so far. As I write my memoir, telling the story of life with my father and how I came to forgive him for abandoning me, I feel the seeds of 31’s confidence growing in me already. Just the other day, I refused to let a man “not see me” in line at a deli since I was there first. It’s something so small, but so vital, to just say, “I was here first, actually,” with a friendly smile. Suddenly, the world is on your side when you remind it that you’re there and that you matter.
Thirty was phenomenal, but my friend’s mom says, “Life begins at 50.” I cannot wait.