My Dad was a pretty great person. He was also an enigma to me for much of my life. Being the sole provider for a wife and 5 children with the oldest one being handicapped, times weren’t easy for either of my parents. Dad often worked two jobs and the amount of sleep he acquired amounted to a few hours here and there when he could get it. During most of my childhood my Dad worked. When he was home, he was either sleeping or too tired to interact with me very much. He was also the disciplinarian – a title bestowed upon him by my mother who couldn’t handle reprimanding her children on top of tending to our other needs. This unfortunately didn’t help my relationship with my father for as a result, I feared him more than anything. He was never abusive in any way (I rarely needed disciplined, rather I was more apt to wish I could disappear and never be noticed than seek attention), nonetheless, I tried to stay out of his way whenever I could, always knowing that he needed as much peace and quiet that he could get.
It wasn’t until I became a senior in high school that my relationship with my him began to change. Diabetes began to take its toll and he was required to take early retirement which, for a man who’d always defined himself by his job, wasn’t easy. Here he’d worked all his life only to spend The Golden Years living with severe hearing loss and fighting a disease that was slowly robbing him of his sight, and the circulation in both feet and legs. Suddenly he had all the time in the world.
My Dad in one of his funnier moments
Dad must have sensed that birthdays were always tough for me. Being shadowed by a handicapped brother whose birthday was very close to mine always left me feeling a bit invisible. One year to my utter surprise, I awoke to two slices of cinnamon toast waiting for me at the kitchen table. This wasn’t just any cinnamon toast he would tell me; this was toast from a ‘top secret’ recipe he’d learned from working at the bakery. That gesture, that bit of extra attention he provided on that day created a common ground with his youngest daughter. He’d bridged a gap, forming a bond over toasted bread.
We started going out for breakfast every so often. We’d spend much of the time eating in silence but the act of sharing a meal, just the two of us, remains a very special memory for me. It’s funny how memories of the little things are what makes us smile. You ever notice that?
Just when my relationship with my dad started to take root, it was time to head off to college. We spoke over the phone and I wrote home on occasion, finding the courage to end every conversation with I love you which back then, were words never spoken around our home; a phrase that today are spoken with ease from years of practice.
I look back on those tumultuous and painful years in college and sometimes find myself trying to figure out why – how I could have gained over a hundred pounds in a few short years. Was it more than teenage depression? More than the notion that I was a young woman who simply couldn’t handle the pressures of college life? Likely all of those things are true however parts of me wonder if it was tremendous guilt for leaving home just as my dad and I found each other. Maybe I’ll never know; perhaps I don’t want to know.
Tomorrow is the 15th anniversary of my Dad’s death; he was 67. I am grateful to have an engagement in which to occupy my mind. I won’t have time to dwell on the fact that he was taken too young, that he never had the chance to meet my husband, or see that I am in the process of turning my lifelong dream of being a full time artist into a reality.
Perhaps what I’ll do when I have a lingering moment is think about how pleased he would have been to have had Craig for a son-in-law; that he’d have loved me whether I was heavy or not; that the simple act of reaching for a jar of cinnamon is enough to bring a smile to my face. Memories really are what we make of them.
Thank you, Dad, for mine.