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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Daddy

I will never forget being picked up by my Daddy and held aloft, or swung around in circles as we played "airplane!". We still have photos of my Dad lying prone on the floor in front of the TV, propped up by his elbows, where he landed when he tired of playing "horsie" with his little girl, me, astride his back. I remained as I was, just a toddler, my thumb in my mouth, "boo bankie" in hand, a red fez on my head (don't ask), just hangin' out with Daddy.

I was a Daddy's Girl. So many of us were.

At the time, we had a very large yard, and I still recall when Dad got a riding lawn mower, a red Toro, which, he explained, meant "Bull" in Spanish. From that point on, I wanted to learn Spanish. Dad liked that idea.

(Incidentally, I also liked to hold out a blanket in front of the lawn mower and pretend I was a bull fighter. Dad thought it was funny but wouldn't indulge me...Mom condemned the practice and made me put the doll blankets away.)

Mom wasn't thrilled, but she allowed Dad to give me a ride on the lawn mower and to keep Dad company as we trundled back and forth and back and forth and back and forth across the lawn, cutting the grass. Every so often I'd have to dismount from the machine so I could pick up some sticks or rocks, and Dad always told me where to walk and where not to, just in case the mower kicked anything out from underneath. I was very careful to do what he said.

I was proud to be "helping" Daddy.

He was from Michigan, so whenever we went up to visit Gramma and Grampa in the UP (Upper Peninsula), he took me fishing off the pier in Lake Michigan. We didn't always catch fish, but that's not what our time was about, anyway.

But our lives weren't idyllic; Mom and Dad used to fight. A lot. And I remember when suddenly their loud, angry tones trumped my fear of the monster in the closet. I remember hearing my confused and sleepy brother's voice entering the fray; I sat up in bed to listen, wondering how he had the courage to even try to say a word. I heard his little voice in comparison to their loud ones, I remember him asking them to be quieter because he couldn't sleep.

I remember sudden silence, then a shouted demand for my brother to "GO BACK TO BED!"

Then I heard no more from him.

I don't know how long we lived like this, but I do remember the arguments usually ended with a slamming door, and it was always Dad who left and Mom who stayed.

I remember going to visit one of Dad's friends, a Shriner (Dad was a Shriner, too), and his friend was a clown. Really. My brother was disappointed but I was relieved when we arrived at his house and he was not wearing his costume. We hung out with the Shriner clown's children, who were a little older than us, and throughout the day we all realized what our Dads were doing; drinking a lot.

The kids we were visiting were visibly upset, and as the time for us to go home neared, they didn't think we should go, but they didn't know what to do. Their Mom was working, just as ours was that day. We didn't have anywhere to go; we didn't have anyone to call.

One of those children went to their Dad and quietly explained that they didn't think our Dad should drive; they got in trouble, for us.

As it was, we went home with Dad, and as he was so jovial, we soon forgot that he shouldn't be driving.

Dad ws driving funny, though, crossing the center line, going back and forth in his lane. We laughed, Dad laughed, and it was an all-around good time! And then we saw red lights in the rear window...a cop car! It was just like CHiPS!

The police officer asked Dad to get out of the car, and when he did, he asked us to get out and go sit in the squad car, in the front seat. He was very nice, and because my older brother chatted amiably with the officer, I followed him, too. He explained that they had to talk to Dad, and we had to wait, and then he would take us home.

My brother jumped into the squad car and was amazed by what he saw; we'd never been in a police car before. As soon as the officer who was driving us home got in, my brother was chattering away, asking questions, and the officer answered him and pointed out other very cool things. I just looked out the window, watching the red lights flashing around us and the shadows they caused.

I remembered my brother responding to the officer, "Oh, yeah, she talks," and he nudged me. I turned to regard the officer, who was looking at me at that point.

"Do you talk?" He asked.

I just regarded him silently, saying nothing. He waited patiently for me to respond, then continued chatting with my brother. He was very good with directions and showed him where we lived. Mom was waiting for us on the front lawn. She immediately ushered us into the house and would not tell us what was going on.

My brother was very excited about our ride in the squad car. I just wanted to know why Daddy didn't come home with us. Mom wouldn't say.

I learned years later, when I was old enough to understand, that Dad got a DUI that night, Mom refused to bail him out, and he spent the night in jail.

Ironically, years and years later, during college I volunteered as a Police Reserve officer, and one night on a ride along, I assisted in a DUI stop. It was my first one. We took the parent into custody, and removed the two children from from the back seat; a brother and a sister, about the same ages my brother and I had been at the time of Dad's DUI. I had to turn away and focus on the job I had to do. I knew I was looking into a reflection, one I'd hoped never to see.

I can't remember how old I was, but I remember one cold, rainy, dreary November day. Mom and Dad weren't getting along, and hadn't been for years. Mom grabbed something from Dad, went outside, slamming the door behind her. She didn't even have a coat on. I watched her slam a bottle against the maple tree in the front yard. She returned to the house, dripping, angry, yelling...and shortly after that, Dad left, with a suitcase in hand.

He never lived with us again. My parents were the first parents I knew who were divorced, and we had to define that word to our friends. None of them understood. Neither did we, really.

***

We moved to Minnesota after they foreclosed on the house, and for a couple years, I only occasionally got to see Dad. It was very hard. Then he moved to Minnesota, too, and we got to see him every other weekend or so. Dad always tried to plan something fun in order to make up for the time he otherwise didn't get to spend with us. But it all fell into a certain routine. Still, though, Dad was Dad, and I was still a Daddy's girl, even as I was growing up.

I had always loved horses, and this was one love Dad forever indulged, when he could. When I was 13, he paid for English Riding lessons for me. He could only afford every other week (actually, he couldn't, but he did it anyway), and this is a gift that benefits me to this very day. He was so excited for me, and always brought the camera. He loved to hear about the lessons, what I learned, and took a picture of me the day I learned to tack up a horse.

When I was 16, he indulged my fascination with horse racing, and we went to what was then called Canturbury Downs (now Canterbury Park). I had it down to a science, with my own list of leading sires, dams, jockeys, trainers, and owners. I picked the horses, Dad placed the bets. My brother was there, completely bored, but indulging me in this birthday gift.

Somewhere in all this, though, Dad's disease really took hold, and I couldn't deal with it anymore. So I found other things to do; the daddy I'd always known wasn't really there so I didn't see the point in going to visit him. All he was going to do was sit in his bathroom and drink while I watched movies or read in the sweltering apartment. I had better things to do.

Mom tried to get me to go up to Dad's more often, but I just didn't want to go; he wasn't the same person anymore, but I didn't know how to express what I felt. Mom, herself, was being overtaken by her bipolar, so it wasn't as though she was much of an authority figure for us, either.

The last time I saw my Dad was on the evening before and the day of my High School graduation. He had to head back to Michigan shortly after the ceremony. He was so proud! His little girl, graduating high school!

But I was so busy with my friends and all the guests, and trying to keep Mom intact that I barely had any time or the desire to really spend time with him. It was like we had, somewhere in there, become perfect strangers.

I went off to college, Dad continued to write and send newspaper clippings and cartoons he thought interesting. Once he sent an article from his local newspaper; he and some friends regularly met to brag about their children, and as my brother and I were doing well and especally as I was seeking to become a police officer, he was enjoying a certain status among his peers. The article was about these fathers and their friendship, but each one of them, when asked about themselves, pointed to their progeny.

I never admitted it, but I was flattered, and I was so happy to have the approval of my father in my law enforcement endeavors, because other than my brother and a random cousin here and there, NO ONE was supportive of me. Only Dad.

Always Dad. With all his imperfections, he never gave up on his little girl.

I spent a semester in Mexico, and before I left I called Dad to give him my address and the dates I'd be gone. He repeated the address and the dates back to me.

I got back to the United States on December 3rd, 1994. We were on our semester break, so I went to work because I had to make money to pay for my next semester, what financial aid did not cover.

My brother went to see Dad, who had moved to Michigan upon the death of our Grandfather about 7 years prior. He gave us daily reports; Dad was not doing well, he was very sick, and in the last stages of his disease. He didn't eat much, but he sure did drink a lot of Vodka.

He had to come home himself to be ready to go back to school early in January. On the morning of January 3, my brother woke me up. Dad was in the hospital. He was unconscious. He'd come downstairs, repeating, "St. Francis! St. Francis!" and collapsed. They took him to the hospital, where he remained.

We knew this was it. I went to work, waiting all day for that call. I had no other choice. I couldn't sit at home, so I worked, waiting, prepared for the news.

I arrived home around midnight as usual as I worked the evening shift. Mom heard me come in and got up to give me the news. Dad was gone.

My brother had gone back to school, so I called him. I couldn't even speak, but that was fine; that was par for the course. I was always the one who couldn't speak, just like when we were kids.

Two days later we were en route to Michigan for Dad's funeral, and it was the most horrible moment of my life, walking up to his casket, seeing Dad for the first time in almost four years, and the last time in this life.

I don't know how I survived the wake and the funeral, but one thing stood out to me, one thing to make me so proud I will never forget it.

There was a flower display there, near the casket, signed in scrawling handwriting. "To Mr. K---", signed by a little girl. We had learned the story; Dad was a collector of stamps, coins, and movies. He was also very sentimental, always had been. My friends had always loved my Dad, because he had the ability to make anyone feel welcome in his presence. That was such a gift.

Shortly after he'd moved to Michigan, one of his neighbors, people we knew, people he'd grown up knowing, took in a young woman and her little girl. They had been abandoned by the little girl's father. Dad, true to form, did everything he could to assist them, and each Monday, he sent a little gift over to the little girl, something from one of his collections. He usually delivered the gift personally, and she came to know him as "Mr. K---". This was always the highlight of his week.

My brother had made the last delivery for Dad, to that little girl, and on the note he wrote to her, he'd signed his name, "Mr. K---".

When I saw those flowers, I remembered how much of a Daddy's Girl I had been, how much I missed those moments, and clearly, he missed them, too.

My Dad had a heart of gold, and even as he suffered in the end stages of alcoholism, his humanity never left him; those traits that define who he was remained intact, and he did his best to reach out and try to make the world a better place, wherever he could. There is a young woman out there who will likely never forget my Father, and to this day, I am so dang proud of him, and I so regret never knowing about this until I stood next to him in death.

My Dad wasn't perfect; our relationship somehow came to a strange "end" even before he passed away, but he never stopped being Dad, and he never stopped being who he was. He never stopped working to bring light to someone else, working to make them feel even a little less abandoned.

In so many ways, I'm just like my Dad; I inherited his sentimentality, his sense of adventure, which, as he also had spina biffeda, he was never able to pursue himself. I inherited his generally easy-going temperment and I only HOPE that one day, I'll also be able to take on his selfless ability to reach out to others, even amidst the most dire suffering.

I was nearly born on Father's day...I believe in 1974 (I'd have to look it up) it fell on the 19th, and I was born the day after. Dad so hoped for the gift of my birth to fall on Father's day, and sometimes we did have joint celebrations. It's no surprise that I have been so linked to my Daddy in so many ways.

Father's Day, now, is often painful for me because it's so easy to remember the hard stuff, and not the things that matter most. I look with longing at Father's Day cards, listen to people talk about how they are honoring their Father, and well they should. I miss my Dad. I wish I could call him up, take him out to dinner, get his advice, and once again, be "Daddy's Little Girl". Those days are gone, but those memories...ah...the memories...I pray I will never lose them.

I loved my Dad, and I still do. And in spite of the mess that really is my life, I hope, that, if my Dad was still alive, he'd be as proud of me now, even after all of life's beatings and all of my mistakes, as he expressed that he was in the news article he'd sent to me so long ago.

For all of you who have your parents, who have your fathers, don't take them for granted. I am happy for you all; realize how lucky you are, realize the brevity of life, and take the time to honor him as he deserves to be honored. Your father probably isn't perfect, and you perhaps have your differences. But realize you won't have him forever; these are blessed moments. Learn what you can, come to appreciate the person he is, and take what is good and LIVE IT.



I miss you, Dad. Rest in peace.


Love,

Your little girl.
Siempre

7 comments:

Sarah said...

Beautiful, Adoro! And, not so uncommon, your post inspired me so much it unlocked a post I've been tinkering with in my head...

Ah. Thanks for sharing this. I have chills about a bit of it (that piece about them fighting, waking you up, temper...that was my parents - no drinking, but the divorce (and the only one with divorced parents) and oh, so much of it...)

So, here are hugs after the tears. {{{ }}}

Melody said...

May perpetual light shine upon him.
I find it comforting to remember that the relationships which weren't perfect on earth (which is most of of them!) will be healed and made whole in heaven.

Ray from MN said...

Beautifully and lovingly told, Adoro!

I didn't know you were a Yooper! My Mom's parents were born in Negaunee to a large family and they visited from Duluth every Summer.

Adoro te Devote said...

sarah ~ I loved your posts on this!

melody ~ thank you. I do pray to one day see Dad again, and that all that was wrong this side of heaven would be healed.

Ray ~ I'm not a yooper! I'm just a white-trash Swedish/Irish/French/German mixed Catholic girl from Illinois, transplanted to MN. Dad was sure a yooper, and I'll never forget our visits to Escanaba.

Dad was Lutheran as was his family.

His Mom died a year ago in April, and I couldn't go so I haven't actually been to Escanaba since he died 12 years ago.

One of these days I HAVE to go up there to visit his gravesite. I've never seen it since he wasn't actually buried until spring.

onionboy said...

Resonating.

O ::thrive luminousmiseries || onionboy.ca

Ma Beck said...

What a lovely tribute, Adoro.
May he and all the daddies no longer with us rest in peace.

uncle jim said...

and last eve (saturday 6/16) in toledo Ohio i helped celebrate my sister's birthday at a surprise party put together by her kids - it is actually on june 20 ...

i read your nov 22, 2006 post. it was very good, too.

i could have been a yooper, but am not - upon our engagement, my wife [who is from southeastern MI] asked me if there was any chance we could move to the UP when married - she was a farm girl - i was a city kid. i said we'd have to wait and see about that [i'd never been there to the UP and couldn't imagine what she would want to go all the way up there for]. later in life i've been there a few times [including escanaba] and now see what she liked about it - but we're not there.

i received 'happy father's day' phone calls from my 3 - i wish the same to all dad's out there. being daddy's girl's dad is kinda neat - best thing in life to work so hard at besides being a good husband to my daddy's girl's mom.