I’ve been mulling this post over for a few days, but I’m still not really sure how to write it. Earlier this week, Her Bad Mother encouraged her readers to celebrate the beauty of the people in our lives. I knew immediately who I should write about, but as so often is the case with my dad–the words just don’t come easily.
I’m not sure why.
But then again maybe I do.
Dad, I am quite certain, has never wanted to be the center of anyone’s attention. He leads his life content to be in the background, to have a job to do, to observe, to think, to appreciate beauty and knowledge, but mostly to go about his own business.
He is an easy guy to misunderstand. He is quiet, and so very private.
Of course, to me, he is just Dad.
But he is so much more than just Dad.
See, I don’t want to present him simply in light of the father he is to me. That would be simple. I would write about how when I was a little girl, I would crawl up on his soft belly and sleep. I can still remember how he smelled and how his chest hairs would tickle my face. At times he would wake me with his laughter, his belling rolling and his hand on my back, steadying me there. I would tell you about how it would comfort me to wake in the middle of the night and hear the t.v. on, because that meant that Dad was home. He spent years on shift-work, and though I never felt unsafe when he wasn’t home–it felt extra-safe when he was. I would tell you about how he would walk into the living room on a random Saturday morning and announce to my younger brother Matt and I (who were still in our pajamas), “I’m leaving for the Zoo in ten minutes. If you want to go, be ready and in the car by then.” That was Dad’s way.
I would tell you about how on a once-in-our-childhoods vacation to Florida, Dad took Matt and I to Epcot Center. While we were there, Dad sat sat down on the ground for some reason, and when he went to get up, the outer seam of his shorts split from the bottom all the way up to his hip. I image most dads would have hauled the kids back to the hotel room, changed clothes, and tried again another day. But we were staying over an hour away from Orlando, and the fun was only just beginning. So dad walked around all day with a brochure in his hand covering the rip rather than cut our visit short.
I would tell you about how he came to as many of my high school softball games as he could, always sitting on the left field foul line away from the crowd where he could see the whole field. He continued to follow the team years after I graduated, always sitting in his same spot. Just a couple of years ago my former coach, who is now the Athletic Director, remarked that he missed seeing Dad out there on that left field line. Mind you, I am sure that Dad probably never said a word to him in all those years. He’s quiet and just keeps to himself like that.
I would tell you about how after LMG was born, and I had made the decision to breastfeed, that it was Dad who put me most at ease about where to nurse, when to nurse, what was appropriate at home or elsewhere. Basically, it went like this: The baby is hungry, and you can feed her wherever and whenever you want, however you want. The day we brought her home, of course he and mom were there to greet her. It came time to feed her and I asked Dad if it would make him uncomfortable if I nursed her in the living room where we were visiting. It was right then and there, when she was about 48 hours old, that he made it clear that it was not going to make him uncomfortable, not one little bit, at all. And I can’t tell you how much that kind of support and reassurance meant to me at such a vulnerable and physically taxing time. When he and I would go places together with LMG as an infant, I would occasionally nurse her in public–discretely of course. Many men go for a short stroll or continue shopping–leaving their wives or daughters to sit quietly alone while the baby eats, which is fine. Not Dad. He would always sit right next to me as if daring someone to give me a disapproving look, which I am sorry to say that women often *do* get no matter how discrete they are. It’s much harder to see the stink-eye being given to you when you’re being surrounded by so much love. John was extremely supportive of me and my decisions, but Dad was downright protective. And I am one lucky girl (hence the name of this blog) to have two men in my life–and especially at that time when new mothers are so vulnerable on so many different levels. I wish every new mother had the same.
And see… that’s Dad as dad. The man that he is is far more complicated. He is a puzzle. If still waters run deep, then my dad is a veritable ocean of feeling, of passion, but I’ve caught precious few glimpses of that side of him in my 34 years. He’s too measured, too pragmatic for that. He will tell you what he thinks, but not much on how he feels. And even when we’re talking about feelings, we’re really talking about what we’re thinking–if that makes any sense at all.
And think, he does. A lot. Matt and I get a chuckle at the random questions that he throws our way sometimes. We’ll just be driving down the highway on the way to the movies or something, and he’ll say something like, “Do you think bluebirds distinguish between different shades of blue, or do they see the blue/brown pattern to know their own species?” Um, what?? But with that natural curiosity comes a natural inclination for learning and sharing knowledge. My dad works for a big company that has to work closely with the EPA to make sure it’s not over-polluting the area. Years ago before John and I were married, John once asked Dad, rather casually, how the company ensured that the water was clean enough to meet the EPA’s standards. I think John was asking just to be conversational, but Dad, in typical fashion, launched into a looong explanation of each of each and every step right down to the molecular components of the filters and what-nots, and the thinga-majiggies and I’m not even kidding. It went on and on. And a day or two later John found in the driver’s seat of his car a 10 page document that explained the whole process because Dad wasn’t sure if he explained it well enough. That’s dad. If you want to know something, he’ll tell you. In painstaking detail. It really is quite charming (unless you’re a 16 year old girl stuck in the backseat of the family car while your 9 year-old brother asks questions about sex to the parent who will tell the truth–the WHOLE truth. That wasn’t so much fun. I didn’t need to overhear that father-son chat. I’m still scarred.).
When my parents divorced nineteen years ago, it was my mom who wanted out. It was the right thing to do, but Dad was left quite vulnerable. I think that is why I am so very protective of him. That is why he occupies the tenderest places of my heart. Places even I rarely dare to touch. He has his flaws, just like we all do, and they are a part of who he is. But his vulnerability makes me want to overlook those flaws, because for the most part they are his own. I don’t think anybody bears any pain for them–at least, not anymore. It’s hard to say things that will push upon those vulnerabilities and bring old pain to the surface when he has been so good to me and he is so private. Even if I just want to help him.
It looks as though changes are coming regardless. It’s funny how we sometimes think we’ve got an idea only to discover sometime later that our “idea” was really the Holy Spirit is preparing us for something big. We started noticing that Dad didn’t “look so good” last summer. Those of us who know him wondered if he had a minor stroke. His doctor said it was difficult to say at that time. This week, though, we now have a definitive explanation for the things we have been noticing. Dad has Parkinson’s. And while I don’t want to overstate this, or make it melodramatic, and I don’t want to make it about me, I am very aware that this will be, over time, a complete game-changer.
The Holy Spirit has been preparing my heart for the fact that there could possibly come a day when Dad might need help from me. I’ve even thought that we may come to a time when Dad may have to live with us. In light of this diagnosis those possiblys and mights and mays disappear. It has jarred me awake. I see now all the little ways that he has been needing me for the last few months, but has not said anything, and I just didn’t realize it. Major changes, thankfully, are not immediately necessary. Hopefully they won’t be for some years, but that time is definitely going to come. And while I take comfort in the fact that God has been preparing my heart for this, and that He already has a plan to answer all of our needs, there are some hard decisions that will have to be made. Dad is going to have to face some difficult things that he has spent years avoiding. And I, who have rested in Dad’s comfort and protection for 34 years, will be the one to comfort and protect as much as I can, but I may also have to be the one to push and prompt him to face some of his demons and wrestle them down. That’s the part that worries me the most. I pray for the strength and the grace to be a good daughter. The daughter he deserves after all he has given to me. The future I envision for my family is quite different now than the one I had even just a week ago.
But it is still beautiful.