Friday, June 17, 2011

I Love You, Dad.

Once my siblings and I could walk and talk, he didn't have that paternal instinct of caring embraces and encouraging words.  We had to simply believe that his love existed and that his pride was buried in the silence of his ironically gentle eyes.  We clung to pictures of him holding our baby bodies; we beamed like gold-medal winners when he offered an uncharacteristic comment or pat on the back; we lived for his approval and acknowledgement; we loved him so much, so deeply, still do.

At some point I learned how to relate to my dad.  It was in college when I was living on campus, even though the campus was only a half-hour away.  It was after one of those laundry weekends, when a friend drove me home with my loads of wash, and I visited and did laundry and ate Mom’s pasta.  Dad would drive me back to school the next day... in silence.  I’m not exaggerating.  Those thirty minutes felt like thirty hours.  We seriously did not speak, and it wasn’t because one of us was angry or sad or depressed; we didn’t have anything to say to each other.  I don’t remember what year I was in, but I remember something hitting me.  As usual, I yelled up to a friend’s dorm window and got someone’s attention to come down and help me out as Dad moved the laundry baskets from the trunk to the ground, and I picked them up and brought them to the dorm entrance and Dad was getting back into his car as I called out,”Thanks,” and he waved a hand, never looking back.  He doesn’t know how to do this!  YOU know how to do this, but he does NOT know how.  He can’t, Geralyn, he just can’t!  I rushed to the car before he could get in, I gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek and said, “I love you, Dad.”  His reply was an uncomfortable, “Uh, huh.”  But I saw it.  Good ole Blue-Eyes got teary.  And he never could control those eyes, and that’s where affection was communicated.

When I received a top honor during my senior year awards night, he was at my side, and I saw him wipe his eyes which meant, “I am proud of you.” 

It must have killed him when I went on a retreat, and unbeknownst to my group, loved ones were requested to write letters describing their love for us.  My dad’s letter consisted of three words:  MY (then a photocopied picture) LOVE, DAD.  The photo was of the detergents “Pride” and “Joy.”  Letting my lashes meet, I thought of my father, blurry and watery, sealing up that piece of paper in an envelope and writing my name on it, and I cried, touched. 

When he walked me down the aisle, one arm was linked with mine while biting his lip, holding back, meaning “Congratulations.  I wish you the best.”

Dad and I talk all the time now.  There’s no awkwardness.  I need him for my genealogy projects, and he’s accustomed to the questioning I won’t back down on, so he’s honest and interesting.  I love hearing about the old days, and he’s open to discussing them, most of the time.  I’m a parent, so we talk about the kids, and my sons are athletes, so his favorite topic of sports is no longer lost on me.  He’s been there for me during some rather difficult times, unexpected phone calls offering brief advice or a favor.  I admire his loyalty to his faith and family, and I’ve come to understand that he may not have the words for affection, but he feels it.

I cherish the moments I have with my dad, and I still hear him talking to me through his eyes.  Like the time he “told” me how excited he was to have another generation of athletic games to attend.  It was during my fifth grade son’s first game, and it happened just inside the three-point line, a long shot completely on target and SWOOSH!  The crowd went wild, and I looked over to my son’s papa, finding him with his head in his hands.  Or the time my youngest son took the mound for the first time and struck out a player, his teammate/brother hollering approval from third, and I stole a glance at Papa smiling ear to ear with a hand over his eyebrows blocking the set sun.

Ever since that awakening day in college, when I learned to appreciate my father, not a visit or phone call goes by without my telling him those words, so I'll end this piece with that special phrase...  I love you, Dad.  (Big hug and kiss.)  HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!! 

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If you're interested in reading other "dad-themed" works, check out some blog posts by members of the Chicago Writers Association:

Mary T. Wagner...
Rebecca Kiel...