There is something special about a bond between a father and daughter. Maybe I should say that I wish every daughter could have the bond I have with my father. He was the first man I ever loved. He is the gold standard of how a woman should be treated by someone she cares about. It didn’t mean I always picked qualified candidates in my dating days but I certainly knew when they weren’t up to par.
As a little girl, I would love to climb onto his chest so we could snuggle and nap. At least that’s what my mother said I did. Growing up, I was notorious for being mischievous and even ditzy. He tolerated it well although I can say with certainty that I was a contributing factor to all that grey hair. There was the time I washed the van. Out there with my bucket and soap and the hose, so proud of myself for being able to clean it all up and make it shine. After completing the task, I went to Dad to boost of a job well done. He went outside to admire my handy work only to be met with the sight of our dull dirty van covered in shiny sparkling clean polka dots. No one told me you had to scrub the whole thing, not just the bird poop. Yep – I got the head shake and promptly retrieved the bucket and rags.
He was genius with cars. I had bought a 1969 Malibu Chevelle as my first mode of transportation. There were a few times when Dad would be under the hood, tinkering with something so that it would run again. The very first day I bought it, I was handed a fist full of keys then drove off to work from the car lot. I locked everything up and went in for the evening shift. When I came out, I tried every single key I had been handed on the doors and none of them worked. Back into Roy Rogers I went and called Dad (for you younger readers, I had to use the office phone because no one carried cell phones back then). He made the half hour trip with coat hanger in hand, wiggled it around till he got the lock pulled up and his grateful daughter followed him home (another note for younger readers – can’t do the coat hanger trick anymore, you’ll have to call the lock smith). When the radiator overheated in my Citation, poor Dad was called on again. This time, it was after midnight and a 50 minute drive. He shows up on the scene with my car on the side of the road, hood open and steam still rolling out. I had walked to my boyfriend’s house to call and both he and his buddy were with me until Dad got there. Both of them were just a little too drunk and spent the whole time giggling like school girls. Again, a sure sign that I had not selected someone on the level of Dad Gold Bar standard. It didn’t take long for him to pull the thermostat out and get me on the road again. Once more, a grateful daughter following her father home.
He always had a razor sharp comeback for any situation. I spent an hour on the phone with my friend Betsy one afternoon and after I hung up, Dad looked at me and said “What is with that phone? You open your mouth and your brain goes into neutral” This genius line not only summed up my teenage existence, but could be applied to the majority of teenage girls then, now, and into the future. Dad had his fun with my ex, Jimmy, too. I was pregnant with Zach but Jimmy and I had not decided to get married yet. We were visiting the farm and Dad had just grabbed his shot gun for population control of some critter that was vexing him. As he walked past Jimmy and I, Dad turns to him and says “What’s this about not marrying my daughter?” and calmly walks out. Jimmy wasn’t sure how to take it. I could tell from the way his eyes were bulging from his head. He caught on quickly to Dad’s sense of humor though. Sometimes Jimmy would help on the farm and was on nailing duty around the green houses. He kept bending the nails and Dad had a blast teasing him about it. Jimmy brought him a handful of crooked nails from our trip to Colonel Williamsburg and proclaimed that these he could hammer in straight.
My Dad caught me in a moment of pure grief a couple of weeks ago. I had muddled through two phone calls with Brandon, but when it came time to talk shop with Dad I couldn’t put on the happy act any more. I was missing Keith, feeling empty, directionless, and stressed. He asked me if I would be ok and I told him I would. But what I was hearing was what he would tell me over the years and what I saw him live every day. “It’s not what happens to you that makes you who you are, its how you handle it.” This statement has guided me through all my adult life and I wish I could have embraced it as a teenager, because I would have been spared a lot of headaches and heartaches. Keith always looked up to Dad. He was always so impressed with him and wanted so much to make Dad proud. I know Keith did make Dad proud. He left us living the mantra that my father passed on to me. Cancer happened and Keith handled it with every bit of courage and spirit he had in him. He met the Dad Gold Bar standard.
There is comfort in knowing that a 43 year old woman can still be Daddy’s little girl, crying on the phone, picturing her 2 year old self curled up on his chest, sound asleep and safe in his arms. Happy Father’s Day – to all the fathers out there who love their children as much as mine loves his.