Thursday, June 30, 2011

Love you, Dad

I have always been a daddy's girl.  One of my favorite movies is Father of the Bride and I will cry at just about anything having to do with daddy/daughter relationships. 

My father is not perfect, by any means.  And our relationship has been very, very rocky at times (during the divorce I wrote him a 4 page poem, entitled "Shit", which basically just called him shit in many different ways.  Yep, rocky)

So, don't worry, all you dads out there with teenage daughters that hate you.  It can get better!

I have hundreds of stories about my Dad and it's really hard to choose my favorites, but I tried to narrow it down.  In honor of Father's day -and my dad- here are a few things my father taught me throughout my 26 years. 

(By the way, I totally jipped my mom on my mother's day blog! I'm totally going to do a redo and give her the credit she deserves. I love love love her and I'm sorry I only talked about being hung over and throwing plates...that would be me, hungover and throwing plates, not her)

1.  There is no wrong time to take a nap. 

My father is a huge napper.  If I'm not feeling well, or just in a bad mood his suggestion is always "just take a nap"  He can nap 2 hours after waking...and again at noon... and again at 5 pm.  Really, there is no limit to the amount of naps you can take in a 24 hour period.  He takes his sleep very seriously.

When we were young, my siblings and I would always be very quiet when dad was napping or he'd yell at us in a half-asleep, crazy daze.   He was never violent, he would just yell and threaten, and give us "crazy eyes".  One of my favorite (and funniest/most traumatic) memories of this occured on my 8th birthday...

I had a slumber party with about 7 of my closest friends.  We all slept on the living room floor.  The morning after the sleepover we were all waking up and giggling quietly when someone suggested that we scream as loud as we could to wake  the last girl who was still asleep.  Seven, high pitched, 8 yr old girls huddled together and on the count of three...1...2...3....screamed "WAaaaaKE Uuuup, Jeeesicaaaaa!!!!"  All of a sudden my parent's door bursts open and my dad is standing there in his boxers, ( I want to say he was holding a belt, but I can't quite remember if it was that dramatic- it felt like it, though)  like a mad man, screaming "If I hear one more word, EVERY SINGLE ONE of you is getting spanked!!!"  In his half asleep/half awake mind I'm sure he had forgotten that it was my birthday party and probably assumed it was just me and my brothers and sister out there yelling.

My mother hurried to the rescue and quickly got my dad back into the bedroom, then ran out to console the 8 hysterical girls crying in the living.  Happy Birthday To Me. 

2.  Never hesitate to invite strangers to church

One Sunday morning, when I was about eh...7?, we were getting into the car to go to church when we saw a man attack a woman and take off with her purse.  We lived on the south side of Chicago, so this was not an unusual occurance, but I had never seen it live.  We were told to get in the car, my mom called the police, and my dad took off down the street to get the theif.  I was kind of scared for my dad.

I remember having so much pride for my father when I saw him walking back to the house with this criminal.  This is the first memory I have of me thinking my dad was, literally, a hero.  By the time they made it back to the house the cops had arrived and were ready to take the guy in.  My dad begged them to let it slide and asked if he could take the man to church with us instead.  My family laughs about this now because, although it was a very kind suggestion, it was probably not the smartest thing to do...having a criminal ride in the back seat with your children.  The cops declined his request.

3.  I am beautiful just the way I am

I remember being about 10 yrs old and feeling ugly.  Very ugly.  It's weird to look back now and think that a 10 year old could feel that way, but I did.  Between the ages of 8-12 it is so awkward for girls.  The tween years were harder than the teen ones.  You start to notice and compare yourself to others.  You're not old enough for makup, so the contrast between the "pretty girls" and the "ugly ones" is very easy to see. I felt like an ugly one.

I broke down crying to my dad one night, confessing that I felt ugly.  I know that must have broken his heart.  He responded with the usual "You are beautiful to maters what's on the inside...blah blah blah...."  When he saw that none of that cliched jibberish consoled me he asked what exactly I thought was ugly about me.  I remember this conversation word for word.  I told him "my nose is big, my eyebrows are bushy, my teeth are big and crooked, my hair is curly and frizzy,  and I have a mole on my face"  Right away he came back at me with "Sarah Jessica Parker has a large nose, big teeth and curly and she's gorgeous!  Boys love her.  Cindy Crawford has a mole on her face and it's what makes her different from the other models.  And she has full eyebrows too!  The girl from Father of the Bride has very full eyebrows and you love her.  All of those things are beautiful in their own way" 

Now, I must admit, at the time I thought his response was horrible.  Basically, he confirmed that I did, in fact,  have all of those ugly features.  I remember wanting him so badly to laugh and say "Becky, you're crazy! Your nose is not big at all.  Your teeth are not crooked.    Your hair is not frizzy.  I'll tell mom to tweeze your eyebrows.  I'll look into how much mole removal will be"  That's what I hoped his response would be. 

Looking back years later though, I'm so happy he didn't say that to me.  I love that he didn't just say that I was something I was not to make me feel pretty in the moment.  He saw me exactly the way I was (big nose and all) and still thought I was beautiful, and encouraged me to accept every feauture I had as beauty.

4.  Guns are nothing to joke around about.

Here's another fun, birthday story.  On my 16th birthday my dad took me down to the DMV to get my license.  At the time we lived in Memphis, Tennessee.  Anyone who has lived in Memphis knows that the DMV is equivalent to hell.  You usually have to wait 2-3 hours no matter what you go in for and the people who work there hate their jobs and are not helpful in the least. 

Anyone who knows my dad, knows that he is not very patient. 

DMV + Dad is a terrible combination.

About 20 minutes after we took our number and finally found a seat in the crammed waiting area, my dad got up "to see what's going on".  They hadn't called a new number since we sat down and he was not happy about it.  He came back frustrated and decided to get some fresh air outside to calm down.  This whole  sit-see what's going on-get frustrated-take a breather outside  went on for about another hour until he couldn't take it anymore.  Finally, he says to me "This is ridiculous.  They have 6 people working up there and not one of them is doing a damn thing"  And then he took off to...see what's going on...again.  I watched his hands wave around as he got into a heated exchange with the woman at the front desk.  It was only about a minute and then I saw him abrubtly storm out of the building and go to his car.  I assumed he just needed a breather.  The woman at the front looked horrified and I saw her making some calls and talking to the other workers.

10 minutes later I see the police pull up and now the entire wait area was whispering about some crazy man who has a gun.  I instantly knew who they were talking about.  I turned to the man next to me and asked "What's going on?"  He said that a man had threatened the woman at the front desk with a gun.  I looked outside and saw the cops talking to my dad and then escorting him inside.  I reassured the guy next to me that he did not have a gun, "That's my dad..he's never owned a gun in his life...yada yada..."

Apparently, when my father went up to the woman at the desk he ranted about how long he had been waiting and how slow the workers were.  His closing lines to her were "What does it take to get anyone to do their job around here?!  A gun?"  And then he stormed off and started rifling through his car.  Which, perhaps, gave her the impression that he was getting a gun.

I actually wasn't that embarassed.  It was too funny.  Had my father actually owned a gun and threatened her with it, it would not be funny.  My father had never even shot a gun before, so the thought of everyone thinking he was going to go on some crazy, shooting rampage was hilarious to me.

They searched him for a gun and made him apologize to the workers, which took longer than it should have because he refused to apologize.  Finally, he caved and made ammends.

 I did, eventually that day, get my license.  Happy happy birthday.

5.  Sometimes it's OK to lie to your children

Just recently I started going over some childhood memories in my mind.  I was thinking about some of the stories my dad would tell me, to help me deal with issues I was having.  He would always relate to what I was saying in some way and then tell me about a similar situation he's dealt with.

I started to remember some of the stories my Dad would tell me about himself as a child, and then it dawned on me.  He made them up.  All these years of hearing heroic tale after tale about my father...and they never actually happened.  I'm sure there was some truth dispersed here and there, but  the majority were fabricated.   They always had some moral lesson in them.  Fables, I suppose. I'm slightly embarassed that I didn't figure it out sooner.  I was 26 yrs old before I even questioned their validity.  It's so obvious looking back now.

Here are the two that I recall most vividly:

1. Once I learned the word "asshole" (at about 11 yrs old)  I would whisper it to my little brother Joe all the time when I was mad at him, and eventually he got tired of it and told on me.  He told me he was going to tell my dad so I went to the backyard and hid behind our if he'd never find me there.  After about 5 minutes of hiding he found me, and told me to come sit with him and talk.  He then told me a story about when he was in school and all the 'cool kids' ganged up on him and were teasing him and telling him he 'better swear or else!'  He proudly told me that he refused to do it.  He told them that they could beat him up if they wanted to, but he wasn't going to say those words, cause it was wrong.  So I asked "well,  what happened?"  And he told me that they were so impressed with his stubborness that they let him go. 
Moral of the story:  Stand by your morals no matter the cost, and in the end even your persecuters will be impressed.

2.  My brother was having a school dance and they were talking about asking girls out.  He took the opportunity to tell the story of when he was in high school.  He wanted to ask the most beautiful girl in school to the dance, but he was nervous.  He was nerdy and she was popular.  It was the day before the dance and he decided to just try, assuming she probably already had a date.  Turns out, no one had asked her yet because everyone was so intimidated.  She said yes to him, because she was impressed with his confidence and everyone else was jealous and regretted not trying. 
Moral of the story:  Always go for what you want, because you never know how it will turn out and you won't want to regret not trying.

Anyway, after I had this revelation that my father had told me false stories the majority of my childhood I got angry and started ranting to Dan.  After I stopped, Dan says,
"Really?  So your dad made up stories about himself to try to be a good role model for you, and to encourage and help strengthen your morals?"  ...and then he laughed... "Do you know how many kids would love to have a dad care enough to try to give a good example, even if it's not entirely true?  Seriously, of all the mistakes a father can make you're going to hold that against him?" 

He had a point.  My father had good intentions and a good heart.  It may not have been the best way to go about things, but it was all out of love.  And it worked!  I clung to those stories and I was encouraged by them. 

So thank you, Dad.  For all the good and not so good.  It makes for good lessons and greater memories.  I love you.