I was watching Rachel and Terry Bradshaw tonight on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. They were singing a song Rachel co-wrote about fathers and it was so sweet I found myself crying over my own Dad. I guess the upcoming Father’s Day and the bazillion commercials for ties and golf shirt sales has planted it in the back of my mind for weeks. Just under the surface. Just close enough to where the memories go and where the tears come.
I was thinking about all those years I got my dad another tie or a golf shirt. Some goofy card about laying in a hammock or going fishing or watching TV or golfing.
I was a busy gal, working all those Sundays. I’d come flying by my folks’ house after work and spend a little time with my Dad. Have something my Mom cooked on the grill. Maybe sit in the backyard near his favorite water fountain while he had a cold Stroh’s. I can still hear the Tigers’ game on the old radio in the garage.
I never asked him a thing. Not about his Father dying when he was seven. Not about his Mother taking off and leaving him and his brother to foster homes where they were taunted and abused. I never asked him about what it was like to serve our country in World War II. I never asked about the boy who danced the Jitter Bug or the young man who played semi-pro baseball.
I was young and self-absorbed, full of my own life and my own goings-on. I imagined our time endless.
It wasn’t until his strokes that I was forced to realize how much time had been spent. How many opportunities wasted. All those years running in and out with that tie or that golf shirt. A card and a quick kiss and barely any time spent telling him all about what I weep for tonight. What I loved and what I miss.
A girl only loses her Daddy once in his life. But she loses him every day in hers once he’s gone.
I have countless memories to keep. Silly little things that almost got forgotten in the madness of the every day. Little moments I cherish now. Gifts he gave me that had no wrapping, no bow, no box. Just moments. Precious moments.
Perhaps his most incredible gift to me was the one most brilliantly disguised as a heartbreak. A devastation. A tragedy.
In ways too many to count, his strokes were gifts that he suffered to give. Endured to offer.
After a lifetime of rushing in and rushing out and short phone conversations and quick cards, there we were. The two of us. Every day for more than eight years we sat at our kitchen table. For hours together. My Dad and me.
Often we held hands. We’d drink coffee and enjoy some afternoon cookies. He loved those Old Fashioned Windmills. Good for dunkin’, he’d say. We talked until one of those strokes took our conversations. He would tap then and, often, he’d tap on my arm. Tap to the music I was playing for him. I made CDs of old hits that I knew he had once enjoyed. Friends gave me CDs filled with songs from the eras of his youth.
More strokes took the tapping and made it cawing and growling. He all but ceased to speak and I missed hearing his voice. Desperately. Like tonight.
He smiled when I sang to him. But I realized that not even those songs were reaching a place I needed them to find. I started singing everything I could think of. And, after not having heard his words for months, maybe years by then, one day he just joined in and started singing Take Me Out To The Ballgame with me. I was jubilant.
From there we sang together every day. I can’t tell you how many times we sang Happy Birthday. Or Camptown Races. And yes, Take Me Out To The Ballgame. I had found my Dad again. I can still hear him singing inside me. Inside me in a place that does not cry. A place that sings Happy Birthday when it’s no one’s birthday. A place that dances on the tops of wing tipped shoes in the livingroom to Lawrence Welk.
When you sit at the kitchen table with your father every day for hours, the world stands still. Excruciatingly and beautifully, together. Just as we were.
I held those hands, now thin and full of thick veins. Held them softly as he had held mine a thousand times as a little girl. Keeping me safe. Keeping me close. It was my turn now to keep him safe. To keep him close.
I looked at his face. Slowly. He had beautiful skin and perfect blue eyes that sparkled and came to life at times still.
When you sit at the kitchen table with someone, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, before you awaits the opportunity of a lifetime: To ask questions. To learn about the man. Who he had been. Who he wanted to be.
You have the opportunity to tell him all the things that a child does not consider, a teen has no time for, a young adult has no perspective to conceive….
You tell him what he has meant to you.
It is the very curse of brain injury which made that golden opportunity an unusually cruel and twisted one. For though his strokes gave me the opportunity to sit with my Dad and to cherish him and to hold his hands and to sing to him….to love him….
It was also those strokes which took from him the ability to remember anything about those moments.
So every day we repeated them. Every day, to be sure.
I don’t know what he kept in his mind. I pray that those moments, instead, he kept in his heart. As I did.
I pray that each of you who still has a Dad gives him that ridiculous tie this Father’s Day. Just as you have every year before this. But I pray that it is a BOW tie, atop the real gift. The gift of sitting at the kitchen table with him. Holding his hands. Holding them as you did when you were little. When he was all that meant safe and protected to you.
Take those hands in yours. Before it is too late. Before it is the last time.
And tell him, finally tell him this Father’s Day, what he has meant to you.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I miss you. I love you.