It’s a classic story.
Boy meets Girl. Boy likes Girl, so cleverly befriends Girl’s brother.
Boy gains access to Girl by being a family pal.
Boy wins Girl. (Boy is a catch so Girl wins too.)
Boy and Girl marry, and produce five much-wanted children.
Thus begins the story of my life. Parental pay dirt. I hit it — BIG TIME.
There are the caricatured ends of the spectrum: woefully inadequate (Peter Griffin), and exemplary icon (Carol Brady). Most people I know related to the Quahog pop but wished for the blended family matriarch. I realize how lucky I am when I say, for me, fact trumped fiction. I got better than the Hollywood version; mine was impervious to recasts and writer strikes, and no one ever yelled ‘cut’.
My parents gave me life, but more importantly, they made it worth living. They taught me basic virtues: the value of a dollar, the importance of knowledge, the power of forgiveness, the meaning of trust. But I learned more from the unspoken lessons than the formally taught ones. Like how to listen without judging, accept without prejudice, give without expectation, love without condition. I can’t remember a time in my youth when I felt alone or neglected. My childhood was a continual source of giggles, gladness, and generosity.
I was a good daughter. Not because I feared punishment (though it most certainly would have been given as appropriate), but because I never wanted to disappoint my parents. I wanted to reflect their successes and earn their superlatives. I wanted that gratifying pat on the back, that rewarding gleam in the eye. I craved their approval, for the simple reason that they made it the most appealing thing in the world.
My mother has always been openly demonstrative; a never-ending source of hugs, kisses, and expressed adoration. We never had to look far for affection or attention―it was always in arms reach (her arms to be exact). Frankly I don’t know how she did all that she did, and made it look effortless too. Here’s what her resume might have looked like:
- Maid — clean, straighten, scrub, dust, mop, shop, wash, press, fold.
- Cook — three squares a day (all from scratch), often for guests (husband’s business associates, neighbors, extended family, friends).
- Mother [aka: Teacher/Peacekeeper/Nursemaid/Taxi Driver] — engage children in play, help with homework, drive to & from activities, referee sibling rivalries, make doctor visits, keep vigil at the bedsides of the sick.
- Wife — travel (plan, pack/unpack), socialize (dinners, shows, work functions), hostess @ home parties (prep, participate, clean-up).
- Part-time Temp — various office duties, as needed.
NOTE: Sleep optional. Or standing up.
Seriously, Mom, I’m mystified — how the Helen Keller did you do it??
My father was a rare breed. Imposing but endearing; loving but laid-back. He was the disciplinarian, though usually the extent of that was a stern look (it was all the threat we needed). The few rare times we really pushed my mother’s buttons, she used the old ‘don’t make me call your father at work‘ ploy. It worked then, though it’s laughable now that we ever believed she’d actually disturb him at the office with our petty bickering.
“Yes, I need to speak to you now. I don’t care if you’re in an important meeting, the girls are misbehaving.”
Dad was extremely devoted to family. An entrepreneur who built a thriving business from the ground up, he often put in long days. But when he left the office, he came straight home to us. We had our evening meal together, and talk was family-centric. He never brought his work or worries to the dinner table; that time was devoted to recharging as a nuclear unit. Same goes for weekends and vacations; we were always the constant in that equation. He wasn’t the touchy-feely type, but it was crystal clear that he viewed raising us as his privilege and priority.
I had one of those lame autograph books that was considered cool as a kid. It zipped-to-close, and contained a rainbow of different colored pages. I wanted it filled from cover to cover, and friends and family were bestowed the dubious honor. The notations were a collage of silly, sweet, and sentimental, and have faded much like the aged paper they were written on. All but my father’s short and simple entry, which to this day remains emblazoned in my memory.
I can see with photographic clarity the angles of his pen strokes as he wrote:
“To My Easter Bunny — No matter how old you get, you will always be my baby.”
That’s it. No poems; no professions of pride for my displayed talents, above-average intellect, or studious nature. I didn’t realize how much those words meant to me, until I was no longer a baby. Until I was thrust into the hardships of adult life, of marrying too young and dealing with difficulties in a household he wasn’t the head of. His statement was simply about our inherent ties. It didn’t matter how smart, artistic, or industrious I was, or what I might become. Only that I was, and I was his. That expression of our unbreakable bond―independent of any act, ambition, or accomplishment―was the most powerful message he could have delivered.
I spent many years under his enviable tutelage. At times making him proud, other times disappointed. But he (and mia madre) loved me and provided for me with unwavering dedication, regardless of my status. His last days were spent in a hospital, following a bypass surgery from which he never regained consciousness. I remember signing his ‘recovery’ pillow (given to heart patients to hold against their chest when they’re made to expectorate). I have no idea what I wrote, only that he would be pressing my words close to his heart. I wanted my feelings to offer a cushion of comfort, much like he had always provided for me.
He never got to do that, but I know he knows just how much he meant to me. He knows that my autograph to him would read: “To My Miracle Father: No matter the space and time between us, you will always be my hero.”
Girl continues to be joyous, upbeat, kind and giving. Girl never wore her sadness as a sign of mourning (though she surely felt/still feels it). Girl moved on to the business of living. Loving, caring for, and celebrating with the beautiful family she & Boy created. Boy will always be a part of her, as he lives inside her, within us, and amidst all of our joint memories.
I hope everyone at some point gets to experience that kind of love… A connection so strong and so deep you never really think about it, until something or someone contrasts against it, making the colors pop. If it wasn’t how you grew up, it could be how you raise your own brood, or what defines your romantic partnership, or the crux of your friendships. Luck only takes you so far. It may hold your pot of gold, but you’re responsible for finding the rainbow it resides beneath.
“The best inheritance a parent can give a child is a few minutes of their time each day.”
~ M. Grundler
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As someone who also lost her father way to soon, this enrty hit especially close to home.Thanks for sharing your life so eloquently.