Today would have been my father’s 84th birthday had he not passed away suddenly at the age of 66 from an aneurysm in his stomach. To say my relationship with my father was and is complicated would be an understatement. But then again, aren’t all relationships complicated? I think our relationship was more complicated than most because I was his favorite daughter and sometimes we disappointed each other.
In our family, there has always been a joke about who is Mom or Dad’s favorite child. Four daughters all vying for our parents’ attention; each of us has a different take on things. My oldest sister believes she was Dad’s favorite well because she was first and she was so wonderful my parents had three more daughters trying to repeat their miracle. My youngest sister thinks she is everyone’s favorite (which she kind of is; she is the baby and we all, well almost all of us, spoiled her) and that Mom and Dad kept trying and trying until they hit perfection, stopping when they had her. I think she views her three older sisters as failed prototypes. She totally dismisses that there were supposed to be five of us but mom couldn’t have any more babies because her fourth pregnancy was so difficult. The sister who I am closest to in age, the one I share the middle with, created a life before we all were born when she and Dad were children together – just two boys fishing and skipping rocks. Kind of hard to compete with a boyhood bond developed over fishing; clearly all those summers of their youth made her Dad’s favorite. And like any good fish tale there was no logic to it; she never could explain how our Dad grew into a man and his boyhood friend somehow morphed into being his third born daughter. My claim to the throne is that my oldest sister was an accident (an unplanned pregnancy in my parents’ first year of marriage) and that I was the first planned child born five years later. Mom and Dad would insist that when we were children they had no favorites; that we each had our turn. And, I honestly believe this to be true.
Who was Dad’s favorite daughter is a separate story entirely. But for now, trust me when I tell you like I have been known to tell my sisters, “I was Dad’s favorite and you can’t prove otherwise, he’s dead.”
As favorite daughter, my relationship with my Dad was and is complicated. There is a part of me that will always be that curly haired, blue-eyed little girl following her Dad around like a puppy wearing my own Jackson Lumber carpenter’s apron filled with nails as I “helped” him with a variety of chores around the house and barn. And then there is a part of me that knows that was only a part of who I am, who he was, and what our relationship was about. My relationship with my Dad was built upon a foundation of love and adoration, colored with the defiance of teenage years, marked by a final battle six months before his sudden death, and tempered by a lifetime of love, patience and understanding.
My father taught me some life lessons both during our life together and through his sudden death. Three come to mind:
Age is just a number …
At the ripe old age of six, six and a half, almost seven, Dad taught me that age is just a number and to enjoy being that number as we only get to experience it once. “If we are lucky enough,” he told me as I was counting the months to my seventh birthday, “we all get to be every number once. Just enjoy being the number you are.”
I try to remember Dad’s words with each passing year. Sometimes, I am more successful than others. As an adult, instead of rushing towards that next number I find myself wanting to hold onto the last number. For some reason I did not like letting go of 26; 27 became a year of change for me. And, I held on to 39 for a few years too many.
Dad was right, we should enjoy being the number we are. Whether by looking forward to the next number or holding onto the last number, we miss out on the joy of the number we are. I am looking forward to a future of being as many more numbers as I can be just once.
Always make sure the people you love know that you love them …
One of the rules we grew up with was never leave someone without letting them know you love them. Both my parents instilled this in us as children. When we left a family member’s house, all four of us were instructed to hug the people we were leaving and say I love you. You never know when or if you are going to see them again. If you leave home for work or school, don’t walk out the door without letting the other person know you love them. I recall the junior high school years when it seemed like I was always mad about something and even more than that embarrassed by the whole ritual not being let out of my Dad’s truck if I couldn’t say “I love you, Dad” and kiss him goodbye. Annoying at the time; but a part of my parents’ lessons and a gift really – I never doubted my parents’ love for me even during the times we were angry or annoyed with each other.
Ironically, the last time I saw my Dad before he died was in a public setting in Orono, Maine weeks before his death. He got pulled away by someone and wasn’t in the room when I left to catch my ride back to Boston. Our relationship was strained at the time but when I got home I called and left a message for him. He never called me back. After his death, the thought that I hadn’t said goodbye, I love you to my Dad the last time we saw each other haunted me. Eventually, I forgave myself and realized just as I never doubted his love my father never doubted mine.
Life is all about the small moments …
My father worked hard all his life mainly in the construction fields, first as a laborer and then as a cement finisher. Often times to support our family, he had to work two jobs. This meant he was tired a lot. As tired as he was, he always tried to make time for his family. As an adult, I realize that the moments he spent helping us with homework, playing cards or a board game with us, telling us stories or teaching us to ride our bikes or horse were stolen moments. Moments he stole from his sleep or responsibilities to spend time with us. My memory is filled with a childhood of small moments my father stole away for us.
I think it is the smaller everyday things, the fleeting moments stolen away from everyday responsibilities that leave a lasting memory in our hearts and minds. When my sisters and I were little, my parents would dance together in the living room and with us. Dad would let us girls dance on his feet. He would swirl us around a few times and off to bed we went.
So today on his 84th birthday, I remember being six years old dancing with my Dad; me in my nightgown and slippers climbing atop of Dad’s work boots as he swirled me around. And, I smile thinking perhaps I can hear the sounds of Glenn Miller or one of Dad’s other big band favorites playing in the background.
Happy 84th Dad! Love, Your Favorite