On this Fathers' Day morning, I sit in my chair, sipping coffee, and thinking of my father. He has been gone from my life now for twenty-two years, and unfortunately, many of my memories are of his last few years of life as he slowly deteriorated from emphysema. It always seemed like a cruel trick of fate as I watched him struggle for breath when he had not smoked since I was a young girl. He had worked long hours every week as an auto mechanic and looked forward to retirement, but his health began its long decline shortly before he retired, and he was never able to really enjoy the pleasures of this long-awaited time of life.
Our relationship had never been one of the lovely "Daddy's Girl" stories. From babyhood I seemed to annoy him a bit. He tried to not show it, but I could tell, especially after my sister was born. She was much more like him -- quiet, reserved in her emotions, self-sufficient -- while I was talkative, boundlessly affectionate, and emotionally needy.
And yet, he was the "rock" in my young life -- tall, strong, handsome and always in control. He disciplined with wise words and an even temper. He could fix anything, build anything, and protect us from everything. I always felt safe when Daddy was home -- let the thunder crash and lightning fill the skies -- it was okay if he was there.
In the early years, there was very little money for extras in our lives. By the time I was a teenager, though, we had bought a home of our own, and he was able to spend the little leisure time he had in new pursuits. He put a swimming pool in the backyard, tilled up a huge area for his beloved vegetable garden, and built a dark room in the basement, bought a camera, and began a new photography hobby. He showed me how wonderful it is to possess many skills and pursue a variety of interests.
From my earliest years, he taught me that it was better to be yourself and follow your own dreams -- that being happy with what you were doing was the greatest success. He showed me that finding solace in nature and solitude was true joy. As a tall, chubby, socially inept teenager, his sound advice carried me through the agonies of high school life.
I have always wondered how it would feel to be a cherished "Daddy's girl," but I realize that I am probably a stronger and more independent person because of the lessons I learned from my father, and that is enough. I knew he loved me; it was just not in his nature to hug and kiss and cuddle his little girls. Unfortunately, it was in the last year of his life, when he was so sick and dependent, that I finally felt a strong bond form between us as I helped care for him. It was his appreciation of the simplest things I did -- scrambling eggs in the morning, moving his nebulizer back and forth between his bed and his chair in the living room, sitting quietly beside him -- that linger in my memory as special moments of love between us.
And so, on this Fathers' Day, I will choose to hold close the memories of that young, tall, handsome man with the easy smile whose strength and love made my world a safe and happy place to be. Happy Fathers' Day, Daddy -- until we are together again.