They say blood is thicker than water.
“They” never met my dad.
He’s my Dad not by blood, but by love and choice and sacrifice. Through hard work and dedication and faith and support. Through as many bad days as good times and a hundred in between.
He was strict with me and gave me responsibility and maturity as a means to shape me into the individual I am today. There were no cell phones, not a lot of makeup and a silent glare if a skirt was shorter than he’d prefer. (And I just knew to turn around and march back into my room and change)
For the most part, we avoided the phase where a daughter is embarrassed or annoyed by her dad. He’s always been my superhero. Our fights would usually end in a draw. Like me accidentally slamming a door in his face only to hear the toolbox being pulled out and watching said door come off of its hinges and be placed in his room. I simply laid a bra on the floor in the doorway and wouldn’t you know, that door was back on pretty quickly.
Growing up with just a Dad during your formative years is quite the experience as a girl and young woman. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
The man who danced with me on my wedding day and whispered “My baby girl…” just before a walk down the aisle first posed for prom and formal dance photos in his flannel shirts, an arm around my back and a smile beaming with pride.
For a man who was a football fan from Day One, he tried his best to understand why I would run around in circles and up large hills and through the mud while making “faces that look like pain” over and over; yet when he came to a Cross Country or Track meet, he shouted my name loud enough that I could always hear him over the crowd, the coaches, the adrenaline. He had no clue what was a good time, so every finish line was a victory.
He still visits my mom’s grave and decorates it with flowers for special occasions and large evergreens with glittery balls for Christmas. And tells me about each trip out there. Sometimes, he calls and I can tell from the wind whipping through the phone line and a bit of sadness in his voice where he is. We don’t have to say much; it’s understood.
My dad was one of the first calls I made when Zack was diagnosed with Down Syndrome and his careful, quiet listening was followed by a “So…?” He asked questions about his eye color and hair color, his personality and when he could visit. Our son’s diagnosis, he told me, was not the hardest thing I had gone through and certainly not something I couldn’t handle.
For every tear-filled, sob-fest of a phone call has been three excited announcements or ideas or big news. And always, he has been so unbelievable supportive.
At numerous times through the roller coaster of life, I have without cringing or hiding, proclaimed “I need my daddy.” He has been my rock and he has eased me out of anger or irrational thinking more times than I can count.
I love watching him as a Grandpa. The way he held a two-week-old Zack while two frenzied, sad, exhausted parents looked on, as if just watching him hold that newborn could calm them down and offer comfort. It worked.
And when he held Addie for the first time in the hospital. Oh my, pride. He grabbed my hand as I sat next to him in an uncomfortable pink faux-leather chair. “She is the most beautiful baby I have ever seen,” he said with a huge grin.
I’ve seen him hold himself together as he led a large family in strength as both of his parents passed away this winter within three weeks of each other, only to hear him cough sobs he had held in for so long when handed the folded-up flag of his veteran father’s casket. “I held it together for so long,” he said, almost apologetically. He always holds it together, he always keeps those around him strong.
When I was exploring Syracuse University on my first day there, my Dad disappeared for nearly two hours. He and Janet returned with bag after bag filled with baseball caps and shirts and other paraphernalia proclaiming the location of his baby girl’s school. When I transferred a year later, he said there was no money left in the piggy bank for more baseball caps. He still wore his one SU denim shirt every time he visited me, eight or nine years after my decision to leave the school. “Just supporting my baby girl,” he’d say with a goofy laugh.
I left home in the middle of a summery night after my sophomore year of college due to disagreements and not seeing eye to eye with my stepmother. I left a note and I swear I left a broken heart. My daddy was my guy, and here I was leaving him, knowing it would hurt him. He was hurt. He wouldn’t talk to me for nearly three months. They were some of the saddest, loneliest days I’ve ever had. He would check in on me via his wife and years later, we can laugh about it because I get along great with both of them. But pulling out of the driveway that night, my Elantra packed up to the roof, I knew I had disappointed him. And that’s one of my biggest fears. I’ve always wanted to make him proud.
He’s my Papa Bear — it’s how I greet him every time we talk. When I walk in his door or he walks in mine, we embrace for minutes, just holding each other tight and hugging to make up for all the days since the last visit.
There are a thousand moments frozen in time; memories with him captured in my heart.
Him put-putting on one of his machines — pushing rock or digging holes with a backhoe or bulldozer.
Dropping me off at the front of my high school in a noisy 1970s dump truck when I tried to play hookie one day. (I never tried it again)
Shirley Temples at the BlueBird. Being doted on by all of his big, tough-guy friends.
Holding a gun on the front porch when a date came to pick me up. (That boy waited in the car on subsequent dates)
We would sit in the living room when I was a teen, listening to one of his records or CDs. There was never an invitation, but the music and his peaceful self, just sitting in a recliner, sometimes mouthing words, sometimes staring somewhere far way, always drew me closer. We would sit there for hours.
Years later, he tells of the boy he didn’t like who put his hand on my lap under the table at dinner in high school. In his style, he never made a scene on the spot, but rather let me learn on my own. It was just his way. Sure enough, that guy was a jerk. But that story comes out nearly every Christmas.
When my dad came for a visit to Syracuse halfway through the year, I was in an ugly place.I was sick; I was homesick and lonely; I was just in a bad place. My RA set up a bulletin board for parents to write notes to their kids. Moms and Dads left hearts and long quotes and happy thoughts.
After my parents were in their car and on their way home, I walked slowly to the board by myself.
My dad had traced his hand in marker.
You see, the thing about the men in his family are their strong, hard-working, callused, loving hands.
And so, my dad left a piece of him with me in that dark place. And in all of the dark places to come, I had a cut-out piece of green construction paper with my dad’s hand tracing.
And I still have it.
My dad chose to keep me and protect me.
To keep his end of a promise and a deal and to make me the best that I could be.
We didn’t always see eye to eye and sometimes I can complete his joke before he starts it.
But most of the time, I keep quiet, and imagine a world without punny, funny jokes and cut-out hands. And it’s a world I don’t ever want to see.
I love you, Papa Bear. Happy Fathers’ Day.
PS — And of course you all know my Scott is the most amazing father my kids could ask for — I sure hope that goes without saying.
You don’t choose someone to spend the rest of your life with, and then fight for that partnership when everything is upside-down and wrong, without at least contemplating their greatness as a potential father. With Scott, that was a no-brainer.
So many of the things I have adored and admired about my Dad, Scott excels at as well. His humor and discipline balance each other well and mesh so well with my parenting that there is a flawless seam between us.
Scott is still evolving as a father, too.
Some men don’t just wake up clothed in perfection. Sometimes, it’s a process. It’s creating a masterpiece of art slowly, cautiously, experimenting and sampling and losing some battles. It’s a growth in patience.
Scott is an amazing father. Zack and Addie adore their Da-Da. You should see them run for the door when he comes home from work.
And the songs he sings to them in the bath and funny games he plays because he knows Zack doesn’t like water poured on his head. And even though he’s told Addie not to splash a thousand times, I still see a hint of a smile when he’s trying to chastise her on Time # 1,001.
My road with Scott is a long journey, too. One that has been tested and has seen its share of dead ends and speed bumps and so many ups and downs. But we are still standing. The greatest thing I love about him, is the man as a father. It’s a beautiful thing.
And when Scott and my Dad are together?
That is when my heart is filled.
I am complete.
I am in love. And loved. By two great men.
The best of the best.