At around the age of four, I wanted to marry my dad. I thought he was funny and handsome. His corny jokes played to a kindergartner’s sense of humor (still true), and I had no negative opinions regarding male pattern baldness. My dad smelled like cold air from the outside and Old Spice. He watched ‘All in the Family’ and ‘M*A*S*H’. He was an enlisted member of the U.S. Air Force. As such, I developed a love of the colors red, white and blue in combination with star shapes at a very early age. In fact, I still have a weird crush on Captain America due to this affiliation (the comic book Captain America, not Chris Evans).
When my dad “played” with me and my sister, his favorite activity was to hide behind a door, jump out, and scare the living shit out of us. I believe this helped to develop my cautionary optimism. Yes, you should walk through doors and marvel at what is on the other side – but there might be someone behind the door to blow it for you, so check your six (that is Air Force talk for “watch your ass”).
My dad came from a rather hardened background in rural-ish Missouri. I believe that he truly didn’t understand getting worked up over small things, because, “At least you never had (insert tragic scenario here) happen to you. Quit overreacting.” Naturally at a very young age, one cannot understand this type of perspective, but ultimately stopping the whining in favor of shutting up was the best choice. My dad wanted us to be tough, but not to have to go through the things that had made him tough.
My dad’s love of dogs crept into my upbringing. I understand that at one point we had a sheepdog named Babs. There is a picture with my sister and me sitting with this mop. We are positioned on either side of her, sitting in green grass and smiling upward. We are wearing matching purple jackets. I might have been three when this photo was taken, and have no memory of Babs. But I remember our Cocker Spaniel named Fletcher, and the Norwegian Elkhound named Belle. We had two Lhasa Apsos at one point (Fred and Tebby), and then the Dachshunds came along. First, Calvin, then Easy (her full name was Easy Does It – like a racehorse would be named). I did not know, for a very long time, that some people don’t even like dogs. When I found this out, I didn’t understand it.
I don’t think my dad taught me how to cook, but he did teach me that no one should be in the kitchen inspecting your culinary project unless they have been given permission. If either my sister or I lifted a lid off of a pot, simply out of curiosity, we were summarily dispatched to other parts of the house or to the outdoors. I learned later that if an oven is opened too early, or if the seal of a pot is compromised, your work could be ruined. My dad didn’t explain this to us, because he brought us up during the 70s. At that time, parents didn’t feel the need to explain things to their children. My father was notorious for providing no explanation whatsoever regarding his edicts, and the term “because I said so” rang throughout our home with disturbing consistency. I did learn two very important things from my dad’s forays into the kitchen: when you are making sauce, you need to stir it constantly – and – dishes are best done while you are cooking, and then immediately following the meal.
My dad taught me to love baseball. I will never have his capacity for mentally storing and then reciting baseball statistics (specifically for the Cardinals organization), but I love the game because of my dad. The time we spent in St. Louis when I was kid meant listening to the games on the radio, with Jack Buck calling the plays. My little kid imagination was enough to understand the importance of a far flung line drive in a critical moment, the courage it takes to steal a base, and the bountiful joy of a grand slam.
I have wondered how my father would have fared with having sons instead of daughters. He got two sass mouthed girls, eighteen months apart in age, who went into the world as adults and did not take his advice as much as he would have liked. We took risks that made him uncomfortable, like every kid does, but we were girls and I believe he was more fearful for us because of our gender. The world can be a bad place. My father’s own childhood taught him that, and he wanted to instill healthy fear in us that would result in cautious decision-making. I feel we failed him on this point. Whether he is aware of it or not, he raised two independent, deeply feeling, thinking women. Our decisions, made outside of his purview, have resulted in some heartbreak. But we turned out okay.
This weekend, my dad is attending the College World Series in Omaha, his yearly tradition. He is considering retirement, as one might do at his age. He will soon be released into the
wild world without a vocation to tie him down, but I am not worried.
He will find something to do. I have grown to appreciate his advice more – to really consider his life experience and how it might benefit me to be a better listener when he has something to say.
My inner four-year-old still considers my dad marriage material, and is still lifted by the thought of him coming home from work in his Air Force blues, smelling like the outdoors and Old Spice. I haven’t been small enough to run and hug my dad’s legs in a while, but that feeling isn’t too far from the surface when I consider every good thing that he bestowed upon me – a goofy sense of humor, proper kitchen etiquette, my love for animals, and the ability to follow nine innings without getting lost.
Thank you, Daddy. Happy Father’s Day.