My dad and I have shared a number of significant times in my life, most memorably the day that my younger brother, Patrick, was born.
I was six and my mother was in labor. She was in labor all evening long and she didn't feel so hot and my dad was nervous, so we were all three sitting in our living room, watching the news as Walter Cronkite told us about Charles Manson and his "family" and the Tate-LaBianca murders. If they hadn't been so wrapped up in the drama of my brother's impending birth (which ended up happening on a gurney as my mom was raced through ER to Labor and Delivery, so that Pat was born by the time my father got back into the hospital from parking the car) they never would have let me watch such a terrible thing.
I was a little bit nervous about Charles Manson, but not half as nervous as I was about this new person who was going to be making his presence known.
My dad drove like the wind on the way to the hospital, screeching into the little Indiana burg where my grandma lived to drop me off. "Hospital. Baby. Going. Be back," he gasped and ran down the front steps and charged off in a swirl of gravel. I cuddled up next to my grandma in her big bed and fell asleep, only to be awakened by my father coming in just as it was getting light and telling me that I had a baby brother.
The most memorable part of my brother's birthday was that my dad took me to Jack's Donuts and we got a sack of glazed applesauce beauties, Jack's specialty. We took them home and plowed through them, him gulping coffee and me drinking milk. What a party atmosphere! We were both pie-eyed from our lack of sleep, but the doughnuts were so good. The crowning jubilation of that day was that my dad let me come in and sleep on my mom's side of their big bed, which would probably have gotten him investigated by Child Protective Services if he'd done it today, but back then, in a more innocent and less weirdly suspicious time, my dad's heart was too soft, I believe, to send me off to my room by myself on such a momentous morning.
We slept like tops, woke up, and ate the rest of the doughnuts.
Golfing -- actually, athletic talent in general -- runs in the blood of my family like quicksilver. It completely missed me and you know it so just shut up. But anyway, my dad was a brilliant basketball player in high school and good at every sport he attempted. But golf has always been his first love and he used to take me with him sometimes when he played on Saturday mornings with my uncle and my granddad. I was more than useless as a caddy, doing things like making chains out of clover to put in my hair, or reading a book as we walked along, occasionally having to be reminded not to fall into water hazards. Golf isn't a game that encourages a whole lot of conversation and I absorbed the basics of the game by watching, without giving a hoot if I ever swung a club myself. The allure of golf to me as a child was the chance to spend some time with my dad, who never talked a lot, but was just...there.
And "there" was good. It was quantity time and quality time and my dad, unlike some of the poor fathers you can read about today in parenting magazines, didn't have to buy me a toy, swing me on a swing, pay for a pony ride, take me to a movie and then treat me to ice cream to convince me that he loved me, even though he was not the kind to say so very often, what with his quiet and reserved personality. He let me come with him to the golf course when I wanted to and I don't think he ever told me no, although I smile as I think about this now and all consider all the times when I just want to go. Somewhere. By. Myself. Or at least somewhere that wasn't work, where other grownups were.
My dad's personality has blossomed since he became a grandpa to five grandchildren, ranging in age from 14 to 1. It's been interesting to watch him venture outside his comfortable, quiet manner in order to deal with the enthusiasms of his grandkids. He's always been very patient about listening to me and my mother go "Bla-bla-bla and then I blablabla, but of course that didn't bla-bla bla bla, so we went to bla bla instead..." but dealing with kids is a different matter indeed. So my dad rose to the occasion and learned to do something he'd never done much of when I was little, which is hug and kiss and say "I love you."
I've come in for my share of this and it has meant a lot to me, even though I am not a hugger either, except for Meelyn and Aisling.
About a month ago, I had a dream that my dad and I were sitting in my parents' family room and talking and he said to me, "You know, Shelley, I would really like you as a person and want you as a friend, even if you weren't my daughter."
It was a really nice dream.
The next day was one that the girls and I spent with my parents, eating lunch and then spending the afternoon with the adults playing cards. I call this one-day-per-week tradition my "mental health day" and it's a good thing for Meelyn and Aisling to be able to see their grandparents once a week and have lunch and bake cookies
While Mom, Poppy and I were fiercely playing a brisk game of Hand & Foot, I mentioned the dream, saying, "You said you'd like me even if I wasn't your daughter, and you'd want me as your friend."
Poppy looked up in surprise, his glasses sliding down to the end of his nose. "But I do feel like that," he said in his quiet way. "I would want you as a friend, and I would like you, even if you weren't my daughter. But I'm really glad you are." And then later when the girls and I were leaving, he gave me a big hug, my dad, and kissed me on the cheek. "I love you," he said.
I love you too, Poppy. Happy Father's Day.
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