It’s Father’s Day.
For the longest time now, I’ve chosen not to look at it in the rearview mirror. It’s become a day of celebration for the three men in my life who have shown me time and time again what it means to be a good and honorable dad. I’ve focused on the now and the future, on generations present and to come. I see my father-in-law, my husband and my son – and I fight back tears at the beautiful legacy. I listen to my grandson pray, “thank you God for all the dads,” and then smile when he thinks about the day he’ll get to be one too. I am overwhelmed at the thought.
But this year, you are visiting my heart. Maybe it’s the steaks being seasoned and the smell of the charcoal grill outside. Maybe it’s the way the filtered light shines through the kitchen windows on this almost summer day. There’s a little ache as I wonder what life would have been like had you been around.
I missed you, dad. I really did.
I remember longing for you as a little girl. You were always busy – so very busy with work – and I would follow you around, finding busy to mimic yours. I would sit in your recliner and pretend to smoke your pipe, or sit at your desk furrowing my brow as I looked at the general ledgers with the jumbles of numbers that made no sense to my artistic brain. You had calendars in your desk drawer with cars of the future on them – do you remember that? I asked you if we would fly a car someday. You said success would let us fly those cars. I wanted to be successful so we would fly together.
I remember wanting to swim with you. I would pack my little suitcase and journey with you to destinations where I would stay with mom at the hotel and you would disappear into conference rooms and nightclubs. There was no time for vacations in our family – there were only business trips. Do you remember when I got tired of playing in the shallow end of the pool at the Hacienda Hotel? When I walked with quiet resolve to the deep end, climbed up on the platform – and dove in? I didn’t know how to swim. But I wasn’t going to be a little girl anymore. I wanted you there. I pictured you on the side of the pool, cheering me on.
I missed you, dad.
I remember when you told me you loved me. I was four and wearing red shorts and we were in your fancy Cadillac, driving to the liquor store again. I sat so close to you because I wanted to be safe. I grabbed the words like pearls and never let go.
I remember when we danced. I was in red velvet and had a poinsettia headband and you were in a suit. It was a business dinner and I got to come – I felt like such a grown-up girl at maybe only 9. I closed my eyes and you counted out for me, “one and one and two.” I didn’t want the dance to ever end.
And I remember when you told me I was pretty. You were curled in a fetal position in the VA hospital, the years of alcoholism ravaging your body and mind. You looked at me and smiled. I don’t know if you knew who I was, but you said “hey there, beautiful.” The words took my breath away.
The depression-era boy who told his parents he wanted to be a preacher. I wanted to meet that boy – and I ache now wondering what happened to you on the calendar pages between the overalls and book satchel and the mixing vodka, red wine, and pills every night in the slowest of suicides and the desperate fear that there would never be enough money or food or fame – or you. What happened to make you curse God and threaten family and hate yourself? Your parents said it was the war. If war did that to you, I hate war.
I pictured you in so many places, dad. I pictured you at the dinner table, talking about the day. I pictured you tucking me in at night. I pictured you sitting beside me at church. I pictured you teaching your grilling techniques to the guys in my life and telling me how to make your barbecue sauce. I pictured you laughing when the cars of the future really didn’t look that much different than the cars of the past. I pictured you being around.
And today, I pictured you here.
I missed you, dad. And I miss you now.
I celebrate the dads who hold hands and kiss scraped knees, who coach Little League and let little girls paint their nails. If you’ve got a dad who is there for you, hug that man and don’t let go. And if you don’t, know that this girl is sending hugs and hope your way. Yes, hope. There’s beautiful hope.