The Man he definitely didn’t have to be
I am very fortunate to have a dad who chose me to be his daughter. We don’t have the traditional bond of blood between us, but you would never know it. I have even had people tell me that I look just like him. I know I can’t possibly, but I take it as a huge compliment.
My mother was a single mom and struggling to make ends meet. At 24 years of age, she had two failed marriages under her belt in a time when divorce was a very dirty word. With the help of some very good friends, she kept ours heads above water, but just barely.
Off the beaten path a bit here, but I’ll circle back around to my original point. There is just something here that I feel I need to say. My mother had an amazing friend. It was this girlfriend and her husband that helped my mom through one of the toughest times in her life. Through the years they have drifted apart, not out of any falling out, just time and circumstance. But I think it’s important to mention here that my mother has never forgotten what this husband and wife did for her. She speaks of them with nothing but the highest praise and deepest gratitude. I remember once as a small girl, that a lady that my mom knew said something only the slightest bit off-color about this couple and my mom gave her a good tongue-lashing. The likes of which left a lasting impression on me about loyalty. My mom may not see her friend as often as she’d like, but she will carry to her grave the importance this woman played in her life. That makes me very proud of my mom.
My mom married my dad when I was about to turn 4. I don’t remember my dad during their courtship. My first memory is of him sitting in a chair near my mom’s front door with a big notebook with handles on it. He was laughing and I was playing with his ears. Something that I would do for many years when I was young. Our first family portrait shows my affinity for his ears. (This photo was taken shortly after my parents were married).
Several years ago, I read an article that said that the roles that father’s play in the lives of children is highly over-rated. The article went on to state that there was no compelling scientific evidence to show that children in single parent homes weren’t just as well off as children in two parent homes. I cannot tell you how totally pissed off this article made me. And I imagine that just as that article pissed people like me off, this one might piss off people who believe that single parent homes are just fine. So be it. My dad is worth it.
I think of my dad as magical. When I was younger, he would take me and my siblings along with him sometimes when he’d go on buying trips. I liked going best when it rained. On those days, Dad’s magical powers were pretty good. We’d turn onto the interstate and my dad would glance up in the mirror and say, “You guys ready?” With long breaths, we all chorus, “Yes!” He’d say, “Okay, I’ll tell you when.” We’d drive for a while and my dad would say, “Okay, get ready. Now!” The three of us would hold our breath along with my dad and for a moment, the rain would stop. I was probably about thirteen before I figured out that Dad’s “magic” was an overpass. But my siblings were still young, so I played right along. Truthfully, I didn’t want to give up the magic. Not long ago, Dad and I were traveling along the interstate and talking about his “magical” powers. He laughed when he realized that I didn’t know for a long time. And it was a good laugh. The kind that’s deep down in the belly and comes from a place of pure enjoyment.
My dad was also our disciplinarian. He was a man of the, “I’ll count to three” school of thought. None of us ever wanted Dad to get to three. The disappointment would be too overwhelming. The guilt unbearable. None of us wanted Dad to be ashamed of our behavior. We’d straighten up in a flash and I’m pretty sure that my parents were told more than once that we were well-behaved kids. It didn’t take beatings, though there were spankings. It didn’t take time-outs and weeks and weeks of punishment. It took a few words and a look to keep us in line. But more than that, it was a fierce love and loyalty. Dad was (and still is) free with the words I love you. None of us ever doubted that we were beloved by him.
As a young boy, my dad’s nickname was Lightning. I heard a couple of his school buddies call him that once and asked him why. He said, “Because I can run as fast as a flash of lightning.” And he could. He was fast. In our small town, there was always a game of “Pick-up.” For me, “Pick-up” means that somebody drives around with a pick-up and picks up as many people as they can find to go to the local softball field to play ball. For us, this happened mainly on Sunday afternoons. Boys and girls all over town would stand beside the road and jump in the back when our truck came by, just to play ball with him. Those games of softball weren’t just about playing softball either. There were lessons on fairness and conflict resolution. Diversity? Well, coming from a small town, folks all around were just folks. We didn’t think of them as any particular race. They just were who they were. But if we’re going to measure by diversity, then my dad was ahead of his time. He’d go through the projects, and he picked up the Indian kids (since I am one, I’m not going to bother with the PC). If there was a kid standing beside the road on Sunday afternoon, it didn’t matter whose kids, how they were dressed, or even if they had equipment. If they were there, they came with us. Period.
My mother has three sister that all have two daughters each. My dad filled in as dad for them when their dad’s weren’t around. My cousins can all tell stories of how my dad came to them in an hour of desperate need and quietly took care of a problem that he then never discussed. These are all stories that I never knew about my dad until he had a near fatal heart attack. While we were sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for news of whether he would make it or not, each of my cousins came into the waiting room. One by one, they told these stories. I sat in awe of how much my dad meant, not only us, but to them.
There have been times when I have run into people who don’t recognize me since I’ve been gone from home for many years. As soon as they figure out who I am, they will tell me a story that endears my dad to them. Stories of how he brought a Christmas dinner to a blind man with no family. How he provided clothes to a family in need. There are many, many stories about my dad like this. Each one of them I cherish. Mostly because I remember that Christmas Day that my dad had to “run out for a few minutes.” What amazes me is how he did these things and we were right there and never quite understood what an exceptional man he was to so many. For me, I just understood that he was my wonderful dad that I loved with all my heart.
My mother has always provided structure, routine and she was the one that nursed us back to heath. My dad gave us something entirely different. It was through him we learned the value of humor, of self-discipline, hard work and received lessons on ego.
I feel very, very fortunate that my dad is still here with us today. I doubt that I could ever tell my dad in words just how much I love him, or just how very, very lucky I feel to be his daughter, but it’s in my heart and I truly believe he can see it.
Dad’s are important. They are so very important. And I don’t need scientific evidence to tell me otherwise.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!
To all the real Dad’s out there, Happy Father’s Day to you as well. For the record, you are necessary!