Thinking About Leftovers

But I did recognize the basic equation that Florida is a long way from Minnesota, and no matter how little I had seen my dad up till then, I would see him less in the years to come.

It's Father's Day. I always send a little something to Florida to mark the occasion. Lately, I've leaned toward ordering a treat to be shipped from Harry and David's. But in past years I've sent anything from horror fiction, which he loves, to framed pictures of my children, to the incredibly odd potpourri of trinkets--including a Kenny Rogers Christmas cassette--that I assembled from the corner drug store in a pinch once when we still lived in Center City. It was definitely the thought that counted that year.

But these days, Father's Day is much more than what I send to Florida to remind my dad that he still has a couple of daughters out in the world, and to remind myself of how much his presence, however limited, meant to me as a child. These days, Father's Day cuts a little closer to home, where three brown-eyed children make homemade cards for John, the guy who gets up early with them every morning and makes pancakes and waffles and calls it Breakfast Club. This is the same guy who washes the children's sheets when they throw up all night, and who officiated at the several tearful goldfish funerals we held last summer. I love animals, but John loves them even more: He'll pull over on the side of the road to talk to cows and horses, seemingly unbothered by the flies and the odor of dung and sweat.

He's also the one who's consistently home twenty minutes later than he says he will be even though he drives faster than he should; who's known for drilling holes where none are needed in ill-fated attempts to string speaker wire in innovative ways; who threw away a few hundred dollars worth of cameras on our summer vacation last year in a hasty attempt to tidy up the car; and who, until his last very impressive turning over of a new leaf two weeks ago, was prone to pouting and stomping fits when under duress. This is real life.

But for this displaced daughter, a father's inclinations toward drilling holes and losing cameras (and indulging in very rare episodes of pouting and stomping) pales in comparison to the earnestness of tears rolling down his cheeks as he describes the pain that Sophie, his sensitive, perfectionist eight-year-old daughter, felt when she, at her teacher's request, walked nervously to the chalk board at school to draw the letter k and found out before all of her classmates that her technique was not quite correct and felt ashamed for the rest of the day. This is the same daughter who enjoys a weekly breakfast at the Uptown Diner with her dad--a little ritual they devised together during the winter to soften the blow of returning to school and work on Monday mornings.

It's funny, in a way, that I'm married to a dad like John. On one hand, his love for children and his obvious nurturing tendencies were part of what I admired in him from the very beginning: When we first met, more than eleven years ago, John's nephew and his nieces were babies, and he clearly adored and treasured them. But on the other hand, he takes marriage and fatherhood for granted in a way that's foreign to me: His own parents have been married for more than forty years, and his mother and father have been present as involved parents throughout his life. This is his baseline expectation--and it is the opposite of mine, which is that anything good must be guarded for dear life lest it walk out the back door one chilly fall morning.

This tentative faith in good things is not entirely bad. It keeps me appreciative, walking around in my life like a kid in a candy shop, running my fingers over the shiny, colorful things around me, barely believing it could all be real. Every single day--even the worst of the disjointed, camera-tossing, pouting, stomping, spilling, breaking, crying, hollering sorts of days--there is at least one moment when I am overwhelmed by the reality of these many chocolate-brown eyes, and by the grace of fatherhood in their lives.

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