I don’t usually write on Sundays. For me it’s a day with my family and a day for spiritual reflection. But today I am far away from my dad and I miss him. We live too far apart, he and I. Because my husband and I spent many years in the military life and, after the fact, found a job closer to, yet still two states away from our family, we’ve been far away “home” for almost ten years now. So today, being Father’s Day, I am, understandably thinking about my Dad.
You see, I’m particularly lucky. My Dad chose me to be his daughter and my twin brothers to be his sons when I was not quite six and they were only four. He was nearly thirty years old at the time and traded in bachelorhood for an insta-family that came with one headstrong little girl. I cannot say I made it easy on him. But he loved me anyway. He still does. And my memories of him are simple and meaningful ones. I remember watching him color in giant coloring books with my brothers on a coffee table in the house we lived in with my mother before they were married. And I remember him teaching me how to shoot a .22 rifle at a target-being amazed that a right handed girl was a left handed shot and pretty darn good at it. He called me Annie Oakley. I remember him working long hard hours on a ranch and being a volunteer firefighter. And how he knew everyone in town, it seemed. It was a rare thing to meet someone who didn’t know my dad or who didn’t like him. When I describe my dad to people who have never met him I often say…well…he’s kind of like the Andy Taylor (from the Andy Griffith Show) of our small town. But there are two memories that stand out for me in vivid brilliant technicolor in my mind. They are brief and telling about my Dad and his love for me.
The first is when I was in junior high school. I was a pudgy kid and only started to grow out of it somewhere around the seventh or eighth grade. I never felt particularly pretty. I was most certainly one of the nerds or dorks-you know-good grades, very shy, not very coordinated and definitely not popular. But I was a nice kid. A good kid. I had a good heart. One day, and I cannot recall at all the reason why, my Dad picked me up from school when I usually walked home. It was uncharacteristic of me to confide in my Dad about such things but I mentioned to him how I wished I could wear makeup like some of the other girls. It was the 80’s and blue eyeliner was very popular at the time. And pink lipstick. My Dad looked at me thoughtfully for a moment. I remember him turning his eyes back to the road as he pulled away from the curb. I half expected him to tell me I was silly or remind me I wasn’t old enough yet in our house to wear make up. But he did neither. He said, “You know. The thing is-it’s girls who like all that color, which is fine. But boys don’t like that clown makeup. Boys like girls who look natural and like themselves.” And he just kept driving. That was all he said. But it was powerful stuff to an adolescent girl who was starting to like boys and starting to try and figure out her place in the world. It stuck with me and became a powerful part of who I am and what I still see in the mirror.
Many years later I was married. I did not marry young. I was past thirty when I had my first child. My parents had taken time off to come and be with me near my due date for my first child because my husband was deployed to Iraq for a full year. My son was born very near to Christmas-time and while I am a strong, strong woman, I was standing in my kitchen holding a days-old infant when a song came on the radio that suddenly became the final emotional straw for me. I broke. I stood there at the kitchen sink quietly crying as I missed my husband and grieved that he was not with us for our first child’s birth or for this baby’s first Christmas. I did not want anyone to feel sorry for me so I cried quietly. My Dad had come into the small kitchen and he saw me there crying. He said nothing to me. He stood a moment and then, saying nothing at all, my mostly undemonstrative Dad put his arms around me and my baby and hugged us to him in a way that said all that needed saying. When I stopped crying my dad kissed the top of my head and walked away. We never talked about it. It was just something that simply…was.
And that is my Dad. His love is simple and genuine. Sometimes he does things that can drive me bananas. As I’m sure I do for him. But I have no doubt that my Dad loves me. He may not say it often, but he shows it in simple, emotionally economical ways that leave no question. So while there are Dads out there that are fancier and more eloquent than my Dad, I learned what simple and honest love is from him. I’m lucky. My Dad chose me when I was nearly six. And it made all the difference in my world.
Thank you Dad. I love you.