Asking someone to talk about her father sounds all a bit Freudian to me, and fittingly, I wrote about my dad and Jane Fonda a while ago. But it’s Leap Day, and if I truly had more time – an obligation-free extra day – I’d want to bring my kids to see their grandparents. My son and my father have a special relationship; no one else exists for either of them when they’re together. I want more of that. I want my kids to know my dad and to appreciate him as I never did when I was their age. We take so many people for granted in our lives – until we no longer can. The last few days have made that increasingly clear. So, here’s a tribute to the living.
My father, mein Papi, is the kind of father whose raised voice didn’t appear too often, but when it did – Oh Boy – you knew you were in deep trouble. This dad raised three girls – not one of them a soccer player or chess player – and shared a bathroom with them and went through adolescence and proms and hickeys and college applications with them. Never once did we feel like he would have preferred a boy.
My dad sang us songs in German to help us sleep, and he always left the door open just a bit so we wouldn’t be in total darkness. He has always taken his religion seriously, and was offended when I tumbled out the front door calling out “O Mighty Isis!” in imitation of a morning show (a precursor to my love of all things fantastical). “Only God is Almighty,” he explained. And I, in my blooming obnoxiousness of twelve years, answered, “I said O mighty, not ALL mighty.” I missed his point entirely.
This is the same dad, a published scientist and holder of many patents, who took us into his office on the weekends to photocopy our hands (and sometimes faces) and color them in. This dad wrote long letters on our birthdays that gave us confidence and comfort as we entered our awkward years. And that same dad told me natural beauty shouldn’t be covered up by make-up – and I believed him. This dad warned me that my mother would notice the blonde dye in my brown hair despite the cute hat I had suddenly decided to wear as a Cover-Up-the-Dye-Job Fashion Statement. Later, two or three years later, he is the dad who carried me into the house – drunk and slurring – saying “I know. I know,” as I claimed it was all his fault that I had gotten smashed and vomited in several driveways.
This is the same dad who spoke for many, many long moments at my wedding – about how he and my mom tried (and tried and kept trying!) to get pregnant for eleven years before adopting me. The one time, he said, that he felt like punching someone was when someone asked, “Will you give her back now?” My mom was pregnant with my younger sister, and this person obviously didn’t “get” adoption.
At the time, I never appreciated his patience, his calm demeanor in the midst of the rabble-rousing that existed in our home. As a pre-teen, I read and then lost the long, thoughtful letters he wrote on my birthday. As a teenager, I resented that he took my mother’s side when I was clearly in the right. As a college student, I thought I knew it all (didn’t I?) about world politics and past wars despite his having lived through being bombed and being truly hungry and actually living history.
And now, I miss him. I miss having someone tell me what’s right so I can rebel against it. I want my kids to experience that quiet patience, because they certainly won’t learn it from me. Instead of hunkering down in the comfort of home, I want to make more trips to Opa and Omi, despite the upheaval that the nester and homebody in me detests. So, here’s to honoring our parents and loved ones with time, attention, and effort even when it’s not a Hallmark approved day of adoration.
Now excuse me. I have to go make some travel plans.
edit: Eulogy for My Father