“I can tell your Dad must mean a lot to you,” she smiles endearingly.
“Yes, yes, he does. I’m grateful to have him for a Dad,” I smile back, unexpected tears welling my eyes.
I’m on a flight back from Portland, chatting with a fellow traveler-turned-friend thanks to warm conversation over the backdrop of the early April Rocky Mountain snow.
I find myself in conversations with friends, whether new or old, in which I mention my dad, enthusing about his character with gratitude, and don’t worry, in a world of 24 million children with absent fathers, I don’t take him for granted.
So, Dad, Pops, Daddy-O,
Sit on down, ’cause this daughter of yours is about to give you a talkin’ to.
Growing up with you was like a grand adventure… that is, until we’d drive somewhere and you’d turn the radio to “Car Talk” on NPR. I can still hear those annoying men with thick Boston accents diagnosing callers’ concerns, “Well ya see, here’s what’s really wrong with ya caaaaah.” I’d sit in the front seat of the Oldsmobile van wondering how quickly we’d make it back from errands, while you tuned in intently, occasionally laughing about a joke that went over my five-year-old head.
There were bike rides and runs, and there still are today. You demonstrated fitness and showed me how to take care of my body, in the milieu of running paths and trails, from Valley Forge State Park to Boathouse Row, Philadelphia. There were camping trips each summer, my favorites being New Hampshire and Maine. You put your hand on my shoulder and pointed towards the night sky.
“You ever seen the milky way?”
We gazed upwards, two heads staring into vastness and mystery, overtaken with appropriate smallness and grandeur, as we marveled at God’s artistry. It was you who cultivated in me a love for the Earth around us.
You taught me how fun life is when you stay young at heart, by running with a grocery cart down the grocery aisle, hopping on, and shouting, “weeeeee!” You reminded me how humorous life can be when you have a penchant for toilet humor. How fun each morning can be by watching cartoons in your suit and tie. Oh, and how ’bout the time you broke your arm while playing basketball with the kids next door? Christmas 2010 sledding?
You showed me what was in my control and what was not- and to let go of what you can’t change. I’m sure you never anticipated the behavioral challenges that having a child with special needs would entail, but I watched you hang on with patience and love. In doing so, you introduced me to the wonderful world of Special Olympics, where I watched you set your soul on fire with life as a coach. You know each athlete by name, and can probably quote their P.R.s by heart. You took a van full of athletes up to Rhode Island for a 5k race, and patiently sat through Sunday afternoon George Washington bridge traffic, while one of the athletes talked incessantly,
“Are we on 95, Coach Scott?” “Are we in New York, Coach Scott?” “Coach Scott, what time will we be home?” You kept your eyes on the road and patiently, but firmly requested that the athlete please be quiet ’til we got home. Amazing how much quicker the ride seemed to go from that point onward.
The family challenges didn’t stop with Lauren. You took two days off work to take an indignant 17 year old (that would be me) on mapped out campus tours of New England colleges, while I cried, and informed you that I didn’t want to grow up.
A year later, I totaled the Corolla when I fell asleep at the wheel. You answered that dreaded 12:30 AM phone call, met me at the hospital, and drove me home, not shaming me or belittling me. When I got into my next car accident a few years later, I remember walking into the house, expecting to be yelled at or grounded for being so irresponsible. I approached you with tears in my eyes, because disappointing you was a punishment in and of itself. Instead of punishing me, you took my yellow swimming towel from my hand, dried my tears, and asked me how I was doing. It felt like that Prodigal Son story, and I still tell people about your actions whenever that story comes up. You’re a lavish grace-giver, and I have no excuse not to do the same for others.
When I eventually succumbed to the fact that college was coming whether I liked it or not, for four years you made four-hour round trip car rides down 95 to sweat through five-hour long swim meets at Burdick Hall, just to watch me swim for 3.5 minutes of those 5 hours. But you were no fair weathered fan; you cheered on the Tigers from Boston to Virginia and almost every state in between. You celebrated PRs with me, and provided encouragement when I struggled to hang on as it got hard and I hit plateaus. You took pictures of me in my cap and gown on starting blocks after graduation, donning a bittersweet farewell to the NCAA. But it didn’t end there. You drove us down a year later to watch my college roommate on her senior day at Burdick. Except this time, we both sweat together through the meet from the stands.
You supported me when I cried my way through my decision not to leave for Peace Corps and prepped me through my first real job interview. You helped me set up my first retirement account. An older co-worker asked me lots of questions about it, stating she wished she had a Dad like you to guide her through these choices. I’m so much better prepared for the future thanks to you. A year into the real world, you coached me on how to complete my own performance review and told me that I needed to stop worry about my life.
You’ve listened to me muse about marriage and family, and when I told you I’m keeping my last name whenever I get married, you supported me with an open mind.
As we both get older, and I’ve watched a small number of friends lose a parent, I think of you with a cherishing grip. I want you to be here as long (or longer) as your now 94 year old mother. I hope that everyday, until that day, I will tell you how much you mean to me, so that you die knowing every good and beautiful thing you’ve done. I want to remind you that each time you hung on with strength and patience in the midst of challenging adversity, I noticed, and am better for it. You’ve been a wonderful father and I know you’ll be a great grandfather too, one day, perhaps, (far, far, away).
But spare them on the Car Talk.
I love you; I always will-