Dad – Beautiful, Flawed, Real – I Lucked Out

In a crowded gymnasium, a thirty four year old man stands at the corner of a spring mat. In a flash, he starts running toward the other side, then, hurling himself sideways, he executes a perfect round-off, flip-flop, back-flip, springing up at the finish, body like an arrow, arms held high. Victory!

He is celebrating his eight year old daughter’s success at her first gymnastics meet: one 3rd, two 2nd, and three 1st place ribbons.

At that moment, I knew my dad had had a life before I came into the world.

For better or worse, my father is always completely himself, never playing a role, rather living the best he can figure out and manage.

Grandpa Bob2

my dad with his mom, aka grandma

I will not expand on his less-than-spectacular moments. I’m a mother now, painfully aware of how easily parental unpleasantness rises up in the face of obtuse innocence, hoping my own failures will be overlooked, or at least forgiven, by my children. Instead, I will remember.

Grandpa Bob7

my dad sharing a story at my wedding

-I am four, five, six… we are swinging side by side at the park across the street. I see my dad’s paint-speckled legs extended, aiming for that just-barely-in-reach tree branch. The day I finally touched my own toes to those goal-leaves, I did a happy dance inside.

-I am small, a fiery ball of giggles in my dad’s arms. We’re in our own world, the nightly tickle fight where my dad lets me give it all I’ve got. My mom worries that one of us will get hurt. I’m being careful in a chaotic, “make-sure to avoid kicking his face”  kind of way. I treasure a photo of my father and I smile-growling at the camera like monsters, our claws out. We had clearly been in the middle of a rollicking battle.

Grandpa Bob9

one of my favorites

-We sing silly songs on road trips undertaken for the sake of enjoying a long drive together. We buy Andes thin mints at a Denny’s an hour south of us. On the way home he sings Silent Night while I doze off.

-Midnight, January 1st, 198?. We drag pots, pans, wooden spoons to our 2nd story back porch and cling-clang like mad. I have yet to attend a better New Year’s eve party. Other evenings, in the same spot, we stargaze. I am used to my dad listening, really paying attention, when I talk. That’s what I remember later, that my dad enjoyed spending time with me, not because he had to, but because he wanted to.

Grandpa Bob3

I could say my son did the decorating, but he was still an infant

-Teaching me how to drive a manual transmission.

-Our 11pm father-daughter conversations about life, the Universe, and everything. My dad tells me stories of his own coming of age. Instant coffee, a recliner, shag carpet, and seven cats wandering around. I am a sixteen year old who knows she is loved and listened to, regardless of what isn’t right with my life or the world, or even between my father and I.

-He is calm and does not comment when I start smoking. What could he say with a pack of Winstons in his breast pocket. I know it broke his heart.

-On TV, grown men are racing around, slamming into each other, throwing, catching and running with an oddly shaped ball. I am a teenager. I walk through the living room. Sitting cross-legged, eyes glued to the tube, my dad sets his hands down on the chair arms, lifts his body off the seat-cushion (legs still crossed), and cheers like crazy. I raise my eyebrows, but secretly, I am impressed.

Dad and Portia

dad talking with my husband’s grandma – two of a kind!

-On our one and only fishing trip, I catch a large tooth-full creature. I’m so scared I hand dad my rod & reel, and my cigarette. He is so excited he takes both. Luckily, we don’t capsize when my friend and I run to the other side of our little boat. Those teeth were that huge! Unfortunately, a 20+ lb muskie is strong enough to snap the line. My dad will never again fish without a net.

Grandpa Bob4

one of his many fishing trips – I can see his eyes smiling

-A sunny spring afternoon. My dad and I, two adults now, walk into a small shop. Drums everywhere, all handmade. The owner gives my father a six-sided beauty, a loon rising out of the water painted on its face. Taking the drum, a custom-made jewel he’s been waiting to pick up for weeks, he closes his eyes, beats out a Native American rhythm, his face radiant in a way I have never witnessed.

Grandpa Bob8

my dad singing a prayer at his only child’s wedding ceremony

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