“Fathers, be good to your daughters. They will love like you do.” John Mayer (lyrics)
Your birthday is today, Dad, and I love you. Your 67 years on this earth has confirmed in me that love never fails. Your love for mom, has been first and foremost, the first honest truth of your faithfulness, trust and teamwork. It was my first important lesson in life that taught me how to love and how I should be loved. It showed me how a man should treat a
woman. Care for her and treat her as an equal. A partner. A best friend. I can still see you standing in the kitchen. Hugging mom, wrapping your arms around her waist, drawing her in close, trying to sneak a kiss. She always blushed, gave you a quick peck and with her rosy cheeks and embarrassed grin, she would gently push you away. Her modesty always got the best of her. She would say, “Dennis!” and then look over at me. I would either giggle or be grossed out. It depended on the stage I was in. The way you still hold her hand when you walk reminds me that I need to always nurture my own marriage and treat it with the same excitement and respect that I had when I met Jim at just 16. Your example of marriage has been a huge influence on my own. Thank you.
The house smelled of fried chicken. That smell meant you’d be home within the hour and soon we’d be sitting around the dinner table, always together. Mom’s rule. You always took your greasy work boots off at the front door and I’d watch you bring your green thermos into the kitchen. Once you were home, you sat at your favorite place at the table while mom put all of the food into serving dishes, and placed them on the table. Dinner was ready. You always picked the thigh. You said that dark meat had the most flavor, so I picked the other thigh. I wanted to impress you, even though I thought eating a chicken leg was pretty scrumptious too. Once dinner was done and I was old enough, I’d clear the table and start with the dishes. I’d open your thermos and pour the cold coffee out. The smell of it reminded me of how early you got up to leave for work. Sometimes at four o’clock in the morning, sometimes even earlier. You were always gone before us kids were awake, your work day started hours before mine even began. You worked, long, hard, laborious days. You always told me to get an education so that I could use my brain to make money, not my back. We always had plenty of food on the table and never went without. Thank you.
The time I convinced you that I wanted to go deer hunting with you, you told me no. You said it wasn’t fun for girls like me, and I wouldn’t like it. I wanted to see why all the boys always wanted to go. They would come back to camp wide eyed and full of excitement, telling wild stories. I persisted and you finally said yes. It was hot and I was hungry. I kept talking to Jennifer, I had convinced you to let her come too. You kept hushing me, ” Be quiet!” Serious business was taking place. You finally saw a deer. You pointed it out to me and I couldn’t believe it. It was so cute and furry. You picked up your rifle and aimed it the beautiful creature. I screamed, “Don’t shoot it, Dad! Please! Don’t shoot it!” I was near tears and my yelling had spooked the deer. It took off and you were pissed. You took me back to camp and never took me hunting again. The same goes for fishing. It’s just not my thing.Thank you.
The vibration of the engine tickled my chest. My heart fluttered with both nerves and excitement and you tightened my red, marble head helmet. My legs were barely long enough to reach the pegs on my 70 ATC, but I was determined to drive it. I gunned the throttle only to hear you yell, “STOP! It’s still in neutral!” Despite the fact that I almost blew up the engine, you gave me another chance. You explained how the gears worked, the difference between handbrakes and foot brakes. After I proved to you that I could shift, you took me to the little dunes, testing my ability to drive my little self over the whoopty-doos of the desert. The hills were huge, and in my eyes I thought I could conquer the small mountain. With trembling hands and a shaky voice I told you that I could do it. You said, “Never slow down while you are going up a hill and keep the ATC in lower gears so that you don’t get stuck.” Mom covered her eyes and I took off. I screamed the whole way up, much like I do when I jump off a bridge. Once I made it up the hill I realized that I had come back down. Holy crap. I did it. After that one time, nothing could stop me. My adrenaline was pumping and I wanted to do it over and over again. I did it until you made me stop because the engine was literally blistering my leg because it had gotten so hot. I had gained so much confidence in my ability that I’d drag race the ATC down the old boat ramp road in the dark with a flash light taped on as my only light. It was my creative way of making it “night legal.” Screeching and giggling, the need for speed was in me….Until I got caught. You made me stop driving for the night so that I wouldn’t kill myself. I’ll never forget that. Thank you.
The same went for jet skis, golf carts, knee boarding and learning how to drive the dune buggy. I was so small that I couldn’t reach the pedals. You solved that problem by putting pillows under my butt and behind my back. I’d unintentionally peel out and pray that it wouldn’t stall as I shifted gears. I didn’t want you to think I couldn’t handle the machine. Soon, it was time for me to learn how to drive a car. You didn’t say anything, but pulled over into the high school parking lot. You put the car in park, got out and told me to get into the driver’s seat. Feeling overly confident with the experience of dune buggies and golf carts, I hit the accelerator and you yelled, “STOP!!! See all these white lines in the parking lot? If cars were parked in them you would have crashed!” I thought to myself how boring driving a car was versus a dune buggy. Once I turned sixteen, you gave me that car. I loved to take it to smoky stables and do donuts behind the library. I could even get some air when I entered the parking lot. That was all fun and games until the shocks died and I was driving it on three cylinders. I’m not sure if I ever told you that, but me and my friends had the time of our lives. Then you taught me how to tow a trailer, launch a jet ski, check my oil and check my tires. You gave me a AAA card. Thank you.
I was terrified out of my mind. I was almost twenty, a full time student and part time waitress, still living at home. Jim and I had to come to you and mom to tell you that I was pregnant. I didn’t know how to form the words other than just say it. I was so afraid that you’d be so disappointed in me. I had no idea how I was going to raise a baby. I didn’t know if you’d make me move out, scream at me or what. You and mom did none of that. You guys really didn’t say much. You were pretty quiet and just stared at me. I knew you were disappointed. You got up and mom said that you had to go to Kmart. Both of you left and I cried. Silence was almost worse than you screaming at me. When I saw your headlights turn the corner on your way back home, my heart dropped. You two weren’t gone for very long. You’d had a little bit to process the news and I thought the tsunami would hit. I retreated to my room, waiting for the flood of tears. You guys walked in and handed me a bag. Inside was a gift set for a newborn. Green in color, it had booties, a beanie, cozy pajamas and baby blanket. I didn’t expect that. The tears came, but they were tears of relief. I wouldn’t be alone in this. You always treated me with respect, Jim too. You never threw it in my face that I had screwed up, majorly. You never gave up on me. Thank you.
I’ll never forget the words, “I’m sorry, Darla, but your baby is dead.” Devastation doesn’t
begin to explain what I was feeling. It had felt like the world had just stopped spinning and it hurt me to breath. I didn’t think I could go on. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to. I never imagined such a thing would happen to me. You were always strong and stoic and for the first time, I saw you cry. At her funeral you had stepped to the side and were speaking with the pastor. I heard you say, “For the first time in my life, as a dad, I can’t just put a band aid on her hurt and make her feel better.” You were right, it was going to take a lot more than that. It was going to take patience, unconditional love and support. That’s exactly what you did. With time, I found my new normal. Mom was always by my side, too. My heart began to heal. Thank you.
Soon, it was time for me to get married. You and mom worked extra hours so that I could have the most beautiful wedding. The flowers were chosen and my dress was perfect. The day had come. I stood at the top of the spiral staircase, nervous as can be. All of the people that loved Jim and I were gathered in the chapel and the music began. I looked down the staircase to see you waiting for me. Suddenly, you turned and walked away quickly. I realized that you were asking someone for a tissue. You returned to your post and looked up at me. I saw you crying for the second time in my life. I met you at the bottom and you slowly walked me down the aisle. When the pastor asked who was giving me away, you choked out the words, “Her mother and I do.” You let me go into the arms of the love of my life. Thank you.
Then there was Sophia. Then Amaya. Then Josiah. My three precious gifts from heaven. You waited for hours in the hospital while I labored. When I was rushed in for emergency C-sections, you prayed. When I had no idea what I was doing, you said, “You wanna talk to mom?”
When the little ones got sick, staying in the hospital month after month, you visited every single day. Sometimes you sat with them so that I could work for a few hours. You brought us dinners, stuffed animals and looked after Sophia more often than I can count. We would never had made it through those times if it weren’t the unending support that came from all of you. You and mom have watched our kids since their births, never charging us a dime, so that I could work. You’ve cooked them meals, picked them up from school and taught them how to spot an ice cream truck from three blocks away. Thank you.
There wasn’t much we couldn’t conquer without your help.
Now on this special day, your birthday, I wanted to let you know how much I love and appreciate you. I would never be able to put into words the amount of gratitude I have for you. For your strength, patience and unconditional love. So today, after church, when we’re both headed in the same direction towards home, I looked forward to smoking your ass between stoplights. My mini-van is still bigger and faster than your 4×4.
Happy Birthday, Dad!