For as long as I can remember, in the rec room of my parents’ house stood a drawing board. My father, an architectural draftsman, was one of the last members of a trade which has segued to CAD and computers. My dad still did meticulous plans by hand and was sought after for his precision and innovation. I recall being fascinated by the blueprints and his tiny, precise lettering that resembled computer font. Growing up, I was captivated by his drawing board as were my daughters, niece and nephews.
It wasn’t just the board itself but its accoutrements: the high stool, for instance, which from one strong push I could send myself into 10 fast revolutions. The electric eraser that hung above the board was also enticing—so much so that one day a grandchild had erased half a kitchen on a blueprint before being discovered. And there was a gigantic brush for sweeping away the eraser dust as well as a rainbow of colored pencils and markers. After the “kitchen erasure” incident, my dad supplied large pads of waxy paper and, legs dangling, his grandchildren became budding artists.
My dad was a larger than life character: his laughter, his zest for life were contagious. When he walked into a room, the light came on, and when he hugged you, the rest of the world fell away. Dad’s puns, idioms and corny jokes were legendary, and so many have worked their way into our family’s vernacular. My favorite was when Dad would say, “Mary had a little lamb; the doctor was astounded.” Hundreds of recitations later, it still makes me smile. Dad told fabulous stories of the street on which he grew up; when my daughters spent the night, they would beg him to put them to bed so they could hear a new tale. Dad would sit in the middle of the antique spool bed, with a girl under each arm, and tell of the pranks and anecdotes from his youth—back when a dime got you into a movie theater. (The next morning over breakfast my mother would debrief the girls and remind them that such exploits would land them in jail today.)
As a little girl in church I would find my way to my father’s lap, one thumb in my mouth, the other flipping his collar, his Old Spice chin cradling my head. Lulled into almost-sleep, I remember gazing up into the stained glass windows; how often now I long to retreat to that sense of utter security. There’s just nothing like a daddy lap. In my lifetime, I cannot remember a single conversation I had with my father about faith, and yet I saw him walk it every day. I never asked my dad for a favor—a ride, repair of something, homework assistance, help for my friends—that he didn’t deliver. He was a softie for old widows needing assistance and for years could be regularly spotted with at least two of my old maid great aunts on his arms. Dad didn’t have a slew of degrees, and there will never be a building named for him, yet his are giant footsteps.
Many studies emphasize the importance of the father-daughter relationship: as little girls we learn self-esteem from our fathers. As our first loves, our dads make us feel worthy and important. Because of my dad, I have always thought myself special—no matter how the rest of the world sees me.
A friend commented on my blog that it seems so many of my posts are about my mother but few about Dad. I’m not sure why that is… perhaps because Mom’s death was more recent? Her illness was sudden and shockingly quick, while Dad’s Lewy Body Dementia pulled him gradually, slowly, away from us, like the shade on a window being drawn. The loss of my parents was painful in different ways; as a woman, witnessing your mother age and die is like shining a spotlight into your future. Losing your dad means missing your North Star—the place where your head always found a safe space.
There is an old picture of my father and me that I love. I’m in my christening gown and Dad is looking down at me. He has such a youthful smile on his face; it foretells how happy a father he will be—of the love and laughter that is to come.
Conventional wisdom is that a woman seeks out a man like her father. However, on first glance, my husband and father are worlds apart—in demeanor, background and interests. Golf is one passion that they share. When I first introduced my husband to my parents, my dad said, “You brought home a golfer! Good choice!” Dad was more right than he knew. I have come to realize that the two most important men in my life both exhibit a joie de vivre, an unconditional love, and a steadfast commitment to their families. Theirs are the metaphorical drawing boards from which their daughters have learned independence and self-worth. Theirs are the sturdy shoulders on which heads rest and children feel protected.
On this Father’s Day I feel beyond blessed to have loved and been loved by these great men.