Regular readers of this site have developed quite an affection for my father, who often leaves comments so funny that he totally upstages me. Even now, he’s still badgering me about that damn pony, and my suggestion that adding “clean up pony poop in the yard” to his to-do list would be less than thrilling will not dissuade him from the notion that HE DESERVES A PRIZE. And you know, he probably does.
So here we go, people. Today is your day to love on my dad. I’m going to tell you some important things about him, starting with the fact that today is his birthday.
(And no, I STILL haven’t bought him a pony, because I am a rotten, rotten daughter.) (However, I have it on good authority that having produced children is more or less a “get out of jail free” or—more accurately—“have your past sins forgiven by your longsuffering parents” card.)
The first thing you need to know about my father is that I got my love of babies and children from him. Some people—and lots of men—are unmoved by kids. Dad is one of those people who cannot walk past a baby without cracking a smile or making a silly face. The corollary, of course, is that we kids were the light of his life, no matter how obnoxious we were. When my children are putting on their umpteenth “show” they want me to come watch, and I really want to go finish up my work or do the dishes or whatever instead, I remember that no matter how many times I demanded “Daddy! Daddy! Watch me!” he always did.
(And I don’t know if you can extrapolate this from reading me here, or anything, but I said “WATCH ME!” an awful lot. Go figure.)
My father drove me to activities and came to every talent show and play and orchestra concert I was ever in—coming to every single performance, even when I was in the chorus of “My Fair Lady” and we did something like six shows and topped out at a run time over three hours. He supported anything I said I wanted to try or do, including my brief and disastrous stint in Little League (it’s hard to be a baseball star when you’re afraid of the ball) and my short career as a saxophonist.
My dad is the kind of guy who taught himself how to braid hair in the 70s because he was the one who got us off to school in the morning and I wanted braids like Laura Ingalls’. He’s the kind of guy who would make up imaginary characters and pretend to be them in the car, sometimes staying in character as I plied him with questions (“You’re from Mars? What’s it like there? What do you eat? Where’s your space ship?”) for as much as an hour. He’s the kind of guy who regularly drove 3 hours round-trip to let me spend the weekend with a friend of mine from camp, dropping me on Friday and returning on Sunday.
I’m not saying my father was perfect. He has his flaws, just like everyone else. One morning when I was 8 I told him that my stomach hurt and he snapped at me to stop whining and hurry up or I’d miss the bus. I got to school, walked up the staircase to the second floor, and on the next-to-top step barfed everywhere.
During one of our (many) runs in family counseling, I had some sessions with a counselor who felt the need to probe a little deeper into the seeming polarity of my relationships with my parents. “You never seem to get mad at your father,” she pointed out. “Why is that?” She spent about a month pointing out that although my mother did things that made me angry, my father DIDN’T do things that SHOULD be making me angry (according to her). As a result I spent much of my 16th year positively furious with him. And in the middle of it, he had a major heart attack.
I didn’t believe in God, back then. If I had, I’m sure I would’ve thought God was punishing me for being mean to him.
As it was, I felt a tremendous amount of guilt. And confusion. And fear. Our precarious little family structure buckled under the additional strain. Dad ended up having a triple bypass (back when they still pretty much had to pry you open with a crowbar and put you back together with a staple gun, as opposed to nowadays when I suspect they can do the entire thing laparoscopically and send you home the next day) and a long, hard recovery. Our home may not have been the ideal place to recuperate from such a trauma, but he managed. No thanks to me, I might add.
I went off to college. I came home after a semester with bigger problems than ever. Dad didn’t know what to say to me or how to act around me, and so he settled for awkward pats and stilted jokes and a few kind words, all of which I probably endured with the all the grace of a rhinoceros in a kiddie pool. But the message was always the same as it had ever been: He always loved me. Always had. Always would.
I went off to college again. He’d “just happen” to be in town on business on a regular basis. He’d “just happen” to be free for lunch, or dinner. Slowly I found myself looking forward to these outings again; enjoying being my father’s daughter again, able to let go of the anger and the guilt and all the rest of the what-ifs. We built a new relationship, at first tacitly agreeing to overlook anything unpleasant that may have come before, and later having real discussions about it.
Shortly before I got engaged the first time, my parents announced that they were getting divorced. I was astounded at how angry I was—not because they were divorcing, but because they’d waited so long. My father was… well, let’s just say I still refer to that time period as his mid-life crisis. I was introduced to a girlfriend who resembled a Barbie doll. I spent a lot of time shaking my head and biting my tongue. Thankfully, things settled down after a while. (Come to think of it, it may be my stepmom who deserves the pony….)
Dad has adored his grandchildren, even though they’re just as rotten as I was as a kid. He has played Pretty Pretty Princess with Chickadee and worn the plastic earrings and tiara as directed, never once indicating that he felt anything other than honored to be thusly engaged. He has sat for hours with Monkey, building Lego creations as commanded. He was kind to my first husband, even during and after our divorce, and he has accepted Otto with open arms. And he still always has a joke or two handy.
He has always responded to my various despairing over the complicated state of my life with both a quip (“Hey, if it wasn’t complicated, how would I know it was YOU?”) and a heartfelt, encouraging sentiment (“You’re doing fine, and next week you’ll be better, and the week after that, better still”). He’s always told me he’s my number one fan, and even when I’m a complete jerk that’s always been true. I know he’s not perfect. And he certainly knows I’m not perfect.
After all these years, what I finally learned was that we don’t have to be.
Happy birthday, Dad. I don’t have a pony for you, but what I do have is this: Thank you.
P.S. A blind man walks into a bar. He says… “Ouch!”