Friday, June 13, 2014

My dad.

If I close my eyes, I can bring up one of my first memories.  It's early in the morning - the sun is not quite up yet.  My dad is carrying me to a neighbor's house because my sister Tammy needed to go to the hospital for some reason.  I'm half asleep and my head is resting on his shoulder, his arms are wrapped around me.  I can hear his shoes on the sidewalk and hear his voice resonating against my ear as he's talking to the neighbor. I knew something was wrong but I wasn't worried.  I always felt so safe with my dad carrying me.  It's such a vivid memory.

And I don't want to open my eyes and disturb this memory.  So I just keep them closed and keep remembering.

Time fast-forwards a bit and I'm a little older and he's coming home from work.  My sisters and I run to him and he catches us, one-by-one, and spins us around.  And I do that over and over again because I love the way I feel like a ballerina when he's spinning me around.  And he never says no.  Never says "that's enough."  He just lets me keep running to him until I lose interest.  Then he tells us that he brought a magic butterscotch home and we squeal and jump up and down and can hardly contain ourselves.  He sits in his chair, pulls out the magic butterscotch so we can see it.  Then he puts it in his briefcase, says some crazy, nonsensical "magic" words that seem to get funnier every time, waves his hands around, and BAM!  There's suddenly an overstuffed bag of Brach's candy in his briefcase!!  We squeal and clap and stuff our faces with candy.  And he just laughs at us.

Fast forward and we're having a taco night with all my parents' friends and the guitars have come out.  I listen to my dad play his guitar and sing with his friends.  And before I go to bed, he lets me sing a song for everyone while he plays.  I opt for "One Day at a Time" and stand there in my nightgown, singing for everyone.  My dad smiles proudly at me and then he kisses me and sends me on to bed.  

Another quick jump in time and Santa is at my first grade Christmas party.  I get to sit in his lap and tell him what I want.  When I look down at his shoes, I notice that Santa is wearing shoes just like my dad's.  Then I notice that Santa is wearing Old Spice like my dad does.  And then I look in Santa's eyes and I see the same twinkle that I know from my dad's eyes.  And I know then and there that this is my dad dressed up as Santa.  I get home from school and ask him if he was dressed up as Santa at my class party today.  He tells me no - it was the real Santa and that he even saw Santa's sleigh on the rooftop of my school.  I say "well, he had your shoes." And he says "well, Santa liked my shoes last year and I told him where I got them.  He probably got a pair.  Or had his elves make him some."  I tell him that Santa smelled like him.  He says "They definitely have Old Spice in the North Pole."  He out-lawyers me at every turn - no matter what argument I throw at him, he has a response.  And a twinkle in his eye.

Fast forward again and I'm a few years older, getting ready for school.  As I am attempting to curl and tease my bangs to 80s perfection, the phone rings and I answer it.  Before I even hear his voice, I know it's my dad because he calls us every morning while we're getting ready for school and sings "I Just Called to Say I Love You."  I sing it with him and he tells me to have a good day at school and he tells me he loves me.  Even then I know it's pretty amazing to have a dad who really does just call to say "I love you" every morning, without fail.  I go to school and come home later and I call my dad at work.  It doesn't matter how often I call or what time of day, no one ever tells me that my dad can't talk to me.  They put me through to his office and I say "Hey, Dad. Are you busy?"  And he answers "I'm never too busy for you, Darlin'."  Every time.  No matter what.

Time moves forward again and we're driving to Dallas for a family reunion on Memorial Day weekend; my sisters and I in the backseat, my mom and dad in the front.  My dad has been playing DJ for us, scanning the radio stations for something good that my sisters and I can sing along to.  Somewhere near Corsicana, we catch a station that's doing a Golden Oldies countdown and my dad starts singing.  We know the songs, too, and we sing along with him.  But, even though the music is good, the part we really love is that Dad is singing, too.  We love hearing him sing.  Then we see a Dairy Queen sign and start chanting "DQ! DQ! DQ!" until he takes the exit for the Dairy Queen.  We cheer and he laughs.  On the way back to Houston after the reunion, we fall asleep in the back seat.  Suddenly, we are startled awake by my dad chanting "DQ! DQ! DQ!" as he's exiting the highway for a Dairy Queen stop.  We wake up and start chanting with him.  And he laughs.

Another jump in time and I'm in high school, crying about some boy.  My dad dries my tears, hugs me, and tells me that the guy must think I'm too pretty.  I don't believe him, of course.  But I love that he says that.  And that he believes that.

Fast forward a bit more and I'm graduating high school and heading off to A&M and, for the first time in my life, I see my dad have to put on sunglasses because "it's sunny" and not because he's tearing up that I'm heading off to my new dorm 75 miles away.  A few years later and the sunglasses come out again when he's leaving me at my new apartment in Birmingham, 700 miles away. 

Then he's calling me Atticus.  Telling me he's proud of me.  Then he's leaving an Easter basket on the front porch for my first Easter in my new house so that, when I walk out in the morning, I know that the Easter Bunny didn't forget me.  Then he's trying to give me $20 because I'm meeting my friends at the movies and, even though I'm a lawyer and grown up and tell him I don't need it, he wants to take care of me.  Then he's playing with the grandkids and laughing at them. 

And then he's gone.

I think about him all the time.  Father's Day, birthdays, holidays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and weekends.  I can close my eyes and pull up memories any time I want to.  And I'm thankful that he gave me memories that come alive like that.  That he was so part of my life and my joy that I can call him up in my mind's eye whenever I want.  I wish I could thank him for that and for so much more.   For making me feel safe.  For never being too busy for me.  For filling my childhood with magic and laughter.  For singing.  For being proud of me.  For being all the things I ever needed him to be during the years he was molding me and during these years I have to carry on without him . . .

My role model.

My standard.

My hero.

My dad.


Anonymous said...

This is just lovely, Catherine. I lost my dad when I was 15, 23 years ago today. I loved reading this and thinking of my own dad.