So Father’s Day is finally over. I am not sure why it was especially sad for me this year. After all, my father has been dead for forty-four years.
Looking at all the Facebook posts of fathers and daughters and families, I couldn’t seem to find the words I wanted to say about my Dad. Yet, he was certainly on my mind and in my heart. As he is every day of my life.
The thing I wondered yesterday was—how would my life have been different if I had a father beyond the age of eleven? What would it have been like for me to bring home my first date? What would he have said? How would he have protected me, held my hand, and told all the boys not to hurt his little girl?
Maybe every child needs a dad like that. Someone that is always there for her and never gives up on her. Someone who is strong and takes care of her and watches her grow into a woman, and then launches her out into the world.
I was lucky to have a dad that loved me for eleven years in a way many girls never experience. I know so many women who don’t get along with their fathers, or may be estranged from them for many reasons. Abuse, neglect, misunderstandings and the old dysfunctional families patterns have made many father-daughter relationships hard for women to handle and heal.
Instead I have a fantasy of what my father might have been like, based on my first eleven years. Most of all, I remember Sundays.
Sunday was always the best day of the week. He was always there. We would start the day with the Sunday comics. I would sit in his lap in his big leather recliner and he would read me one after the other, Archie, Charlie Brown, Family Circus and every other one that was on our list. I can see the smile and anticipation on my little girl face now as I think about it.
Oh, but first we would make pancakes and coffee. We had an old percolator coffee pot that you put on the stove to boil. Every Sunday he would fill it up too much, and it would boil over. My mother would come downstairs and make a comment about how he just couldn’t ever get it right. He didn’t seem to mind. He kept doing it his way anyway. Every Sunday!
The pancakes were the best part. He taught me how to be sure the oil was just the right temperature by putting a drop of water in the pan to see if it sizzled. Then he taught me how to watch for the right amount of bubbles on the top of the batter, before flipping them over, so we wouldn’t turn them too soon. Somehow he was much better at making pancakes then coffee, but no one seemed to mind.
Sundays we would all go to church, which was just across the street from my house. My father would go to an earlier mass, because he was an usher. The rest of us would go later so that we wouldn’t have to get up too early. One Sunday I remember asking him if I could go with him and I excitingly set my alarm. I am not sure what happened but I remember going to get him at 2:00 am all dressed in my Sunday shoes and dress. He woke from a sound sleep when I entered the room, and we both laughed at how anxious I was to get to church that morning with him.
After church we would all have Sunday dinner together. Mom might fry chicken and mash potatoes, which of course was the best southern meal in town. Then my dad and I would go to the park. I remember the fountains that came out of the concrete. He would let me take my shoes off and run through them. Oh, how I loved those free and easy Sunday afternoons.
Some Sundays we would drive to my aunt’s house through the Portsmouth tunnel. On the way, we would drive by the Sunbeam Bakery. We could smell the bread baking as if the oven was inside our car. Then we would come home and take a nap.
Mom always let us have sandwiches on Sunday night for dinner, and then Daddy and I would get ready to watch the Ed Sullivan show together again in his big leather recliner. Of course watching the Beatles with my older sister was one of the most exciting Sundays of all.
Weekdays were not nearly as fun, because waiting for him to come home from work seemed like a very long time. My father worked late hours managing a fuel oil business. Every night when it got close to the time for him to arrive, I would hide in the hall closet, where he would predictably hang his coat and put away his moneybox from the store. When he opened the closet door, I would jump up and say, “BOO.” He always acted scared as if every time he opened the door was the first time I had surprised him. Then we would both laugh and laugh and laugh.
Some very special and rare days he would take me to work with him inspecting houses for new insulation. I remember one winter when he taught me that if the snow stayed on a roof and took awhile to melt, then that was a house with good insulation. I still look at rooftops in the snow and think of my dad’s knowledge. I thought he was so smart.
These memories tell me that had he been around a while longer, he would have been the best dad on the planet. But, I guess his leaving still makes him the best dad that ever lived on the planet, because he is the reason I do what I do.
Every day I show up in a little room and I sit with people. People who have lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and even children; people who have been abused and betrayed; people who can’t seem to stop using the drug that takes away their pain; people who don’t know how to be alive and people who want to die.
I don’t know if my father had stayed around longer if I would have wanted to become a therapist. My father taught me to seek my life’s purpose, to always strive for the best, and to love with all my heart and then love some more. What greater gift is there in this life? He also taught me that sometimes we all have very hard things in life that we have to get through, and that we all need a safe place to fall.
I still deeply miss him, and even though I will never know what it might have been like to have him around longer, I know he is still in my heart, and I know he helps me (and my clients) everyday. Thank you, Daddy. Happy day after Father’s Day.