I’ve spent my entire life and more than (way more than) half of his totally gaga over this guy. He got my first smile, my first laugh, and countless more since then. My very earliest memories are of him.
His coming home was the true beginning of my day. Although I don’t remember it, I’m told that we played a rousing game of kick-kick on the top step of our second floor house apartment. He apologized profusely once to the lady downstairs and she swore she never heard a thing. He never believed her, but appreciated her grace.
When I was older, I would wait at the end of our long driveway and watch the corner. When I saw that big blue panel van make the turn, my heart would beat faster and I’d wave hard enough to dislocate an elbow. He’d stop for the younger me. I’d climb onto his lap and “drive” up the driveway. The older me would race him to his parking place, usually winning.
He taught me how to drive that no-power-anything-three-gears-on-the-column van years later, demonstrating Jobian (is that a word?) patience as I jerked and killed that thing so much I’m surprised it survived and we didn’t have whiplash. “If you can drive this, you can drive anything,” he told me. And I did. And I can.
Sometimes I would lift the rounded top of his metal lunchbox, inhaling the scent of coffee and waxed paper. I would sneak in a limerick or other little poem I had written, and that evening when he got home, find one he’d written to me. He read poetry to me. Oh, not Shakespearean sonnets, mind you, but “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and an old unknown charmer about a guy on a disastrous date: “I Had But Fifty Cents.”
He listened to every story I wrote and laughed in all the right places. He honored my love of books and kept distractions away when I was in the last few pages of Of Mice and Men. He took me to concerts and plays. When I was the star of the middle school play, he was there front and center opening night, then surprised me by coming to the second performance, loudly clearing his throat just before opening curtain so I’d know he was there. I had tears in my eyes and a big smile on my face for my first scene.
We loved dogs together, trained dogs together, laughed at dogs together, cried over dogs together.
He made sure I knew how to hit a bully right so the fight would be immediately over, and how to keep my knees together while sitting in a dress. He taught me to play piano and shoot pool, ride a bike, balance a checkbook, and appreciate quirky humor. Although I haven’t yet developed his master ability for all things gardening, I have gratefully adopted his love and appreciation for all things blooming and green.
He taught me fierce independence, stalwart patriotism, unending optimism, and a quiet but unbending faith.
Today is this guy’s birthday. He has reached an age almost two decades further than any other man in his family. I live each year so so thankful that he got the longevity gene.
How do you pay tribute to a guy like that? Maybe like this:
Happy birthday, Daddy. I am who I am because of you. You are part of the very air I breathe. Thank you for the treasure of our life together. How blessed, how very blessed is this girl. I love you.