The cradle my dad built us.

To My Dad:

My parents separated when I was two years old.  My dad got me every other weekend and for Tuesday night dinners.  We still get together for Tuesday night dinner.  And, according to my mom, he never missed a weekend.  My dad always seemed to want time with me and want me to be a part of his life and his interests.

He took me to baseball games and taught me to drop a ball down into the dugout with a soda bottle so that I could collect signatures.  He took me sailing.  He thinks I hated it because as a child I was scared of everything—the dark, gremlins, the alligator under my bed, leaving my mother, and sailing—but my memories from the boat involve loving being with my dad.  Note: I loved it except for the toilet or when the boat was heeling over.  That part I really didn’t like.  Okay, I actually hated the sailing part.  He’s right there.  I just liked the time with him.  But I think now I’d really enjoy it.  My dad thinks I didn’t like sailing because I often cried when I had to leave my mom.  I was a momma’s girl.  But I recall loving my time with my dad.

My dad and brother in Civil War attire.

He used to shoot black powder with the 5th Connecticut—a Civil War infantry.  He wasn’t actually in the Civil War, a point I think he’d want me to clarify for good measure.  The group aren’t exactly reenactors.  They are competitive shooters in Civil War uniforms.  He would take me shooting.  The black powder was a little too intense for me.  But my dad has always wanted to share his passions with his children.

He’s a photographer, which means our baby books are incredible.  He also taught Driver’s Ed, so when it was my turn to drive he was unusually calm.  One day he took me out and I was clearly going to run a stop sign.  He said, “That’s a stop sign. I recommend you stop, but you’re the driver so it’s up to you.”  It wasn’t actually up to me.  It’s a stop sign.  I had to stop.  But that’s a pretty calm passenger.  I’m a backseat driver—a trait I obviously didn’t get from my dad.

Though he has never liked a movie I’ve recommended, he continues to watch my suggestions.

When I was seven my little sister was born.  I was swimming at my neighbor’s pool and my mom called for us (me and my older sister) to come home to meet our new sibling.  As we ran home, my neighbor’s dad yelled, “If it’s a girl, tell your father not to flush it down the toilet.”   I was too excited to meet my little sister, Helen, when he said it at the time, but I asked my mom about it when I got home.  She laughed.

Apparently, my dad wasn’t sure he wanted to have kids.  When my mom was pregnant with my older sister, he was nervous about having kids and definitely wanted a boy.  He used to say if it was a girl, he was going to flush it down the toilet.  My mom was nervous.  And then when my sister was born and my father saw her, he looked at my mom and said, “I want another one.”  He was so in love.  He had three girls before a boy and he loves us endlessly.  Sorry, Will, Dad doesn’t love you more. (Insert smiley face with tongue sticking out emoticon.)  My dad will do anything for us.  He wants us with him.  It’s so obvious that he wants us around.  And he’s happy when we are there.  You can see the joy on his face.  And I sometimes wonder if that’s the same joy my mom saw that first time he saw my sister.

It looks like my dad is about to feed me to a lobster here.

He, like my mom, encourages debate and conversation.  Morally my dad and I align pretty well.  But on religion and politics we don’t always agree, but that doesn’t change anything about our relationship.  There is no topic off limits.  Even when my dad doesn’t agree with me, he’ll talk about any topic and love me just as much when I state my mind.  Without a doubt that has been one of the best traits of all my parents.  They will hear my point-of-view, even encourage me to have one, and they are okay when it differs from theirs.  I feel like they taught me to think and question.  They may have overdone it.

My dad gets excited about my adventures.  He laughs when I swim in Jell-O and tells his friends that I’ll be hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro.  My dad gave me my interest in hiking.  He was the first person to take me to Devil’s Hopyard, and I loved it from the start. It was so much better than sailing. Every time I’m on the top of a mountain I think of him.  I’m seeing that view because of him.  My love of history comes from my father.  My memory does not.  I have to call him any time I have an historical question or a question about our family heritage.

When I was in college, even though I had a boyfriend, my dad mailed me an “Application to Date my Daughter.”  It included questions like, “where would you least like to be shot?”  My dad still calls to check in on me.  He texts me almost daily.  He frequently tells me he loves me.  It’s nice to hear, but it’s obvious.  My dad likes to have me around.  Most recently he taught me how to urinate like a man.  So the life lessons keep coming.

My dad is really good at letting things roll off his back.  He doesn’t hold a grudge—two traits I envy.  He’s also good at relaxing, enjoying the moment and being present.  It’s an example I’m trying to emulate.  But at thirty-six, I’m not sure it will happen for me.

What I did pick up from my dad is an incessant need to twirl my hair.  I twirl it up by the front and close to the scalp.  He used to do this too, and I used to ask him to stop so that I could twirl his hair.  Sometimes if I really get going I can twirl two little devil-horn looking loops in my hair on either side of my head.

We also share a sort of obnoxious need to be early.  If something starts at 5pm, my dad and I will want to be there at 4:45.  If we are going to be late, which means 4:50 in our mind, we start to get stressed.  I think everyone we know finds this irritating.  But he and I get it.

He sings ditties.  My other siblings tease him, but I have to love it because I do to.  A Downie Ditty is basically a made up musical number about something that just happened.  Best when sung off key by someone completely tone deaf.  When I was a little girl, he used to sing, “When I was just a lad of three I climbed upon my mother’s knee and said when I grow up I want to have a kid just like Maggie.”  He made it up, but for years I thought it was a real song that was amazingly perfect for us, except when he sang it to my sister and used her name.

We share the same mole.  It’s huge—the size of a thumbprint on my back.  It’s important that we both have this monstrosity, because I’m not sure I’d like it if my dad didn’t have the exact same one.  I’ve always loved it because it was a way I matched my dad.  We have the same feet and legs.  I presume this is bad for one of us.  One of us is a guy with girl legs.  The other is a girl with guy legs.  I’m worried because I think my dad has pretty nice legs for a guy.

When I was still lap sitting age and my parents were newly divorced, I’d repeatedly ask my dad if he loved my mom.  He always said, “Yes.  Of course I do.”  As an adult I can’t imagine how hard that was because I suspect they were both pretty mad and hurt by each other at the time.  The wound was raw when I was asking.  But somehow my dad never let that get in the way of what was best for me.  Never.  When I talk about how my parents handled divorce, I often feel like I’m bragging.  They could not have done it better.  They should write a book with my stepmom.

So, yeah, my dad is pretty wonderful.  He makes me feel so loved.  And that is a gift I can never repay.  But at least he can know I know.


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