Happy Father’s Day to all the good dads out there. Hope you got a burnt waffle in bed, or a macaroni portrait, or a coupon book with certificates “good for…” something you’ll never redeem because you want to keep it forever.
In the third grade, I was running top speed from a boy who was trying to kiss me on the playground. As I was looking over my shoulder to see if he was gaining on me, I tripped over a cement border and went flying through the air. My arms outstretched and air flowing against my toothless grimace as I thought about all the dirty words I wasn’t allowed to verbalize fly through my head in slo-mo. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to being a superhero. A foul-mouthed superhero, but hey. I’ve always thought we haven’t had enough foul-mouthed superheroes. Anyway, I did my best impersonation of Pete Rose (and this was the 70’s, Pete and the Big Red Machine ROCKED!) and slid head first into a truckload of gravel. My first thought was to check and see if the kissy-boy had gained much ground, because after taking a header like that, no WAY was I going to get kissed, too. Apparently, my suitor had stopped in his tracks, along with the rest of the kids on the playground, jaws hanging open with a sole playmate stating something like, “THAT was AWESOME!”
I dusted off my dress and bravely made my way to the teacher on playground duty. She saw me coming, blood trickling down my brow, skinned knees, and a gash in my hand that was full of pebbles and was already bruising. “Oh my GOD! Are you OKAY?” I shook my dazed head yes as she led me into the nurse’s station. Once I was behind closed doors I completely broke down. I’m not sure if it was my injuries or because our school nurse sucked. What I remember of our school nurse leads me to believe that she was just someone’s mom who had extra time to volunteer at the school. I don’t think she had a nursing degree. In fact, my grade school BFF’s brother, Roy, went to her once after a playground accident. He was playing basketball with some friends and someone had a pencil on the court. The pencil ended up entering Roy’s forearm and breaking off. The school nurse had the idea of slapping a bandaid on it and sending him on his way. A day or so later, Roy had emergency surgery to remove what ended up being at least two inches of pencil from his forearm. Yeah, this lady had questionable skills.
Anyway, she dug the rocks out of my hand and sent me home. The cool part about it was that my mom took me to the Dr after the event, and he used butterflies and an entire roll of gauze to cover up my injuries. I felt like a burn victim with my big gauzy hand. It was a delightful bit of attention.
The next day at school we were decorating father’s day cards. The design of the card was made to resemble a suit complete with a tie. I found this funny because living in a rural community like Kirkersville, OH, there were probably very few dads who wore a suit and tie to work. I bet many of them were farmers. Or in the military. Or held jobs like plumber or HVAC or auto mechanic. The suit and tie gig wasn’t really Kirkersville’s scene. As I was making this card, my teacher came over to see if I needed any help. My hand was still heavily bandaged and I was having trouble navigating my crayola to make the color tie that I thought my father might wear to someone’s funeral. My card was more like “Happy Father’s Day. I hope someone you love doesn’t die and you have to buy a tie for the funeral.” I’ve always been a little warped. But I turned down Mrs. Smith’s offer for help because I knew I wouldn’t be giving my dad this card. My dad wasn’t dead. But there was no reason to give him that card. So I colored it knowing that while other kids’ dad’s would be excited, mine would look at me with his dead eyes and just not give a shit. My creative effort was going to land in the trash.
Somewhere along the course of my young life he gave up. I don’t know him that well but I used to REALLY WANT to know him. And, then, somewhere along the course of my life, I’ve given up, too. He has never met my kids. He knows he’s a grandpa and he knows that his grandson has been fighting for his life for nearly 10 years, but for whatever reason, he can’t deal with it. And at this point in my life, he doesn’t deserve to deal with it. I can only imagine how relieved he must be that I’ve finally given up.
My children are now older than I was when my dad left. And I’m always floored by all the things my dad missed out on in my life. I know I’m a pretty cool cat and have some mad parenting skills despite my less-than-stellar role model. And as I laid next to my son in his hospital bed, watching his pulse keep time in his delicate neck, I was overwhelmed with what a gift I have in my children. How much they’ve taught me to feel and to love. And how my life would be nothing without them. And how they’re going to start pulling away from that “embarrassing woman” they call mother because I’m just too weird. But they KNOW I love them. They KNOW they can always depend on me. It won’t always be easy and there will be (and have been) many disappointments along the way. But my priority is to take care of them. To love them no matter how hard it gets. To build them up when everyone else seems to want to tear them down.
They’ll never doubt my love for them. I simply won’t have any part of that.
I do have some great role models in my life, but I’ve found them on my own. I wasn’t born into their families but they accept me as if I were. And somewhere along the way, I’ve learned that family is what you make it. You don’t have to have a pedigree or title to belong. Love is accepting. And sometimes certain blood relatives just can’t do that.
And that’s not my fault.