My father came from a family of four boys and one girl. His sister is the youngest, and in my current situation, I can see how it was that my grandmother ended up with five children, the very last one in pigtails and bows.
I didn't know my grandmother long, in the scheme of things. She died when I was ten, and though it was monumental in my life for a long time--my first experience with loss and death--it has now faded to something fuzzy, surrounded by the haze of an old memory. I can tell you she made the best turkey sandwiches ever, and equally good chicken wings. She smoked, and rocked in a rocking chair with her eyes closed while singing. The chair always creaked. Creaking rocking chairs are a haunting sound for me, because in those days when the memory of Grandma was monumental, I believed she was haunting me, too.
Another thing I know is that she made my father, and presumably his brothers though it's my understanding that Grandma wasn't always necessarily known for fairness, take ballroom dancing lessons. I think this is pretty much the greatest thing I've ever heard. I've always meant to do this with my own boys--still plan to, in fact--because there's a loud, undeniable truth about men. The ones who can dance are really cool. Playing an instrument is pretty great, too.
My dad played the accordion.
Anyway, the other day my mom and I were chatting on the phone and happened to come to this exact topic. "Grandma made Dad take dancing lessons," my mother told me, as if this was news I hadn't been told a thousand times over the course of my life, each and every time the word "dancing" was mentioned in my father's presence.
"Yeah, Ma, I know," I said. Then I smiled. "I think it's cool. I think boys should know how to dance. And you know what? At all the Father-Daughter dances, my dad was always the best dancer."
"What?" my mom asked. "Dad?"
"Yeah! He twirled me and threw me in the air. He had all the moves." And in my memory, though it's probably made up, I brought up the image of crowds forming around us, clapping to the beat of the music, while I matched my dad step for step.
"Wow," was my mom's response. "You really love him."
I made a face in surprise. It was such an odd thing to say for a lot of reasons. First of all, why wasn't she wholeheartedly agreeing that Dad is groovy? Secondly, it was sort of a "duh" moment. Of course I really love my dad.
I mean, there's the fact that he gets a sort of scary shade of angry when he's yelling, where this one particular vein pops out of his forehead and you find yourself mentally reciting every prayer you were ever taught. There's the fact that when I had to work for him as a teenager, first as his "cleaning" girl (because I really just "cleaned"--I never actually did anything effective, to Dad's everlasting dismay) and then later as a night-time secretary, he fired me every single day. Every day. I'm not kidding. I'm not going to say I wasn't a royal pain, but who fires his own daughter? Especially his favorite daughter? My dad, that's who.
And don't even get me started on how unreasonably strict he was about going out with my friends in high school. One night a weekend. No exceptions. The other night was dedicated to "family time." I usually spent this night in my room with the door closed since all my dad ever watched on TV was the history and discovery channels and who wants to watch animals mating with their father on Saturday night? Call me immature all you want. It was UNcomfortable.
But there are so many things, bigger things, that will never get hazy in my memory, and that matter so much more. They make those other, more annoying things the funny stories we tell around the table after dinner, sitting with this guy who loves to laugh. He taught me to tie my shoes (two loops, not one), how to swim, how to waterski, and how to drive. He took me to bookstores every weekend and let me pick as many books as I wanted and never, ever said no. "I'll never mind spending money on books for you," he said once after I'd thanked him. "I just love to see you read." It is a moment among thousands that is branded inside me, one that has not only made me the person I am but the mother I am, too. Because I say the same thing to Joey, too. He flies through books like I did, done before the day is over, already eager for the next story. And I tell him, like my dad did to me, "Of course you can have another book." And we don't like to lend them out or give them away. We keep them all, even once we've run out of room. Not because we're being selfish, but because each and every one matters.
My children believe, like I did, that the sun hisses when it touches Lake Erie on cricket-filled summer nights when the sand is cool and the lake is quiet. Because of my dad. They think I'm the coolest because I can throw, catch, and hit a baseball. That I like the sound of a car's engine when it accelerates. That rain smells clean. And that sometimes, the very best thing is to just be still and let the world go on around you in all of its magic and wonder.
Because that's my dad. He's the magic.
There are things that I get from my mom. Undeniably, I am most like her. But I find that most of those things are part of my nature, and that so much of what I've had to learn, what I've had to change, what I've come to expect from others...it's all based on things my dad has taught me.
So, I guess my mom is right. I do really love him.
Happy Father's Day to all the wonderful dads out there.