Friday, July 08, 2005

Always Daddy's Girl

I've always been close to my dad. Always. So, when this month's BfB asked us to write about parenting (or being parented), I immediately thought of Dad. I'm not a parent (unless you count my lovely dog, Lily), but I have wonderful parents and a continuing relationship that grows and changes with the years. Rather than focusing on a single incident, I want to take you through some of the moments that shaped what parenthood means to me.

1980: My dad comes home from Germany (where I was born) after finishing his active duty enlistment in the Air Force (moving now to the Reserves). I'm 3. I CLEARLY REMEMBER going to the airport, and seeing a guy who looked vaguely familiar. Then he hugged me, and though I don't remember what he said, I know he SOUNDED right, and moreover, he SMELLED right. (At the time my father smoked black cherry flavored pipe tobacco.) I remember sleeping in the car with my yellow blanket with the satin ribbon on the way home.

mid-80s: My mom often worked early morning shifts at the hospital, so Dad was responsible for getting me ready for preschool/school. He combed my hair every day (and that was a real chore then, given how thick and tangly it used to be). He would occasionally catch one of my ears in the comb. I was very tender-headed, and he was very kind. He could braid and make ponytails and pigtails, too.

1986: Dad's dad passes away. I remember an early morning phone call, and hearing my dad crying in their bedroom. I was very angry, and very worried, about what could possibly make my daddy cry.

circa 1989: I think I was about 12 the first time Dad and I had a really deep talk. We talked about God, about why he doesn't like churches, about his life growing up in Alabama in the 60s. We talked about my grandpa. I think it was this first conversation where he impressed on me the importance of reading the Bible. He was never pushy about it, but said that if I didn't know the basis, I couldn't argue when I thought people got it wrong.

Summer 1990: I was 13, and we were in Alabama for Dad's 20th class reunion. Uncle Richard took my sister and me roller skating, where I fell and broke my arm. Mom accompanied me through the x-rays, then was going to trade with Dad. Before he got to my room (I thought), they decided to give me the anaesthetic so they could set my arm. If you've never been through it (lucky you!), they put the shot right into the area of the break. I screamed "I want my daddy!" at the top of my lungs, only to discover that he ran the last few feet just as I had started screaming. He held my hand, letting me squeeze while they set the broken arm, then made me let go so he could sit down before he passed out from watching me in pain. Fifteen years later, I will remember this moment with new understanding when I nearly pass out at the sight of my great-aunt who is slowly dying from Alzheimer's.

Throughout the next five years, Dad is a constant source of encouragement to a teenage girl who badly, badly needed it.

Summer 1992 or '93: I have all four wisdom teeth taken out. The general anaesthetic makes me sick and miserable. I go to sleep with Mom watching over me. I wake up with Dad sitting in the exact same spot, not watching TV, not reading (this is truly remarkable for our house), but just watching over me. He is particularly comforting over the next two days while we discover that I'm allergic to the codeine in Tylenol 3. I was unable to keep water down, let alone anything nutritious. He holds my hair, wipes my face, and brings me any number of stomach-soothing liquids. He does not get upset when, once I switch to triple-doses of regular Tylenol and regain my appetite, I eat half the loaf of bread in an afternoon because toast tasted so good.

January 25, 1996 (the day before I turn 19): I call Dad at work--
"Hi Dad"
"Hey, kiddo, what's up?"
"Dad, are you sitting down?"
"Yes, why?"
"Colin asked me to marry him this morning."
"And I said yes."
"No, Dad! I'm not pregnant!" (muffled laughter from my college roommate, Nikki, who is barely awake across the room)
"Have you talked to your mom yet?"
"No, she wasn't home."
"Let me prepare her for this. Call the house around 7 tonight..."
Long story short--he helped me navigate and negotiate with my mother and grandmother to eventually get the wedding I wanted (rather than maybe the one they thought I wanted). Also, he helped keep Mom from completely freaking out. Within the past 6 months, Mom had turned 40, had her oldest (me) move away to college, and now I was announcing my engagement. Although things were rocky for a while, Dad helped us smooth it out and remember what was really important--that we all still love each other just as much.

August 17, 1996: My father gives me away at my wedding. We all cry at various points. I remember thinking how wonderful it is to have a father who is not afraid of tears, especially tears of joy. I find out later that he has also been part of the "conspiracy" to get both my maternal grandparents to attend and to agree to behave themselves for my sake.

March 1998: We are visiting my parents over Spring Break when we get a call from Colin's aunt that my father-in-law has committed suicide. While Mom goes to the package store for some Wild Turkey, I bully Dad into giving me one of his cigarettes. I say bully because he never wanted me to smoke, always discouraged it. Years later, he will congratulate me on managing to quit, even though he has not been able to (yet, Dad. yet.).

May 2001: I dedicate my master's thesis (on Stephen King) with these words: "To my father, who always told me that smart was beautiful, and to my husband, for making me believe it was true."

August 2001: I wake my parents in the middle of the night (even later for them than for me), with the news that my mother-in-law has committed suicide. The next day (a Sunday), Dad calls his boss and announces that he will be taking a few days off. The following day, he drives halfway across the country to be at my house and stays to support us through the memorial service before heading back to Georgia.

November 2004: I announce that I'm going to quit my PhD program (eventually quitting the academic world entirely). Dad's (and Mom's) only concern is that I be happy, and that I not totally give up on teaching, since it would have made his grandparents (both teachers) so proud. I find, in time, that there are other places to teach than just in a school. And I discover that one of my greatest teachers about life and living was right in my own home.

The most important lessons my father has taught me (in no particular order):
  • Be yourself. Anything else is not worth the ulcers.
  • Be kind.
  • Kids can tell who's on their side. (And yes, he was always in their camp.)
  • Jellybeans can make miracles.
  • Children should be allowed to get DIRTY.
  • God wants us to think.
  • READ--I can't even put into words how important this was in our house. Reading truly has shaped my life in ways I cannot measure.
  • Seek and find your own personal relationship with God and come to terms with Him.
  • There is no such thing as a fair fight. One person will always be better prepared or equipped. Know this and be prepared to act on it.
  • Don't miss a chance to tell people you love them.


Melanie said...

What a beautiful post. You are one lucky girl.

Donna said...

Ditto on what Melanie said. I hope your dad gets to read this.

Gina said...

Don't worry, he's read it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I have read it and I can honestly say the following.
My name is Charles Alexander and I am truly proud to be Gina's Daddy and the Dad of her siblings, Becky and Sean.