My dad was 34 when I was born – the third and fattest of his babies.
40 when he began kneeling down at my bedside, interlaced fingers, calm and quiet, listening to my prayers as I thanked God for mom, dad, sister, brother, dog, parrot, grandma, friend, teacher, neighbor, toys, food… The biggest atheist I’ve ever known, he waited patiently for me to finish and repeated “Amen” after me. And he always followed that up with a kiss to the forehead and a good tucking in under the sheets. I haven’t slept as peacefully since. Especially not on the night he discovered that, at age 13, I was attending Catholic mass not for my relationship with God, but to steal kisses from my first boyfriend as we sat on the back pew, barely listening to the sermon. Dad was pretty livid when he caught us holding hands outside of church. That was the last time I attended Jesus’ crib.
He’s tried but can’t hold a grudge for too long. And he’s got odd ideas about getting even too; in my Prime Pest Modus Operandus, I enjoyed (still do), flicking, poking, pushing, tripping the old man, slapping magazine or book out of his hands, turning off the computer monitor and running away, hiding his silverware as he’d help himself to seconds (or thirds), snatching a pen from his hand and tossing it across the room, standing in front of the TV, blocking his view… you name it, I did (do) it with the biggest smile on my face. He’d smile back too:
“I’m gonna get you. I’m letting you know that you can stop now or I will get you,” he’d say calmly.
I’d go on about my business of annoying him. Suddenly he’d get up from the couch or chair and run after me. Locking myself in a room was useless because his patience has always outlasted mine. I’d choose instead to run as fast as I could and enjoy the thrill until I was finally caught. He’d place me on the floor and tickle ’till I couldn’t handle it anymore and then… he’d spit all over his hands and smear them on my face. That was his punishment and, what can I say… it was disgusting but I must’ve enjoyed it. A quick wash with soap would rinse away the foul smell of saliva and I’d go find him to shake hands in truce.
I had no revenge for all the snacks and sandwiches he’s stolen over the years, unfortunately.
“Oooh, did you see the cat zooming by??” he’d ask surprised, out of the blue.
I’d look, and in that split second, half of my sandwich would be making its way down his belly. The man will eat anything too. Blame it on having grown up poor, or just being a food fiend; he’s been known to eat cake sandwiches or banana sandwiches – yes, a slice of cake or a banana between two slices of bread. In two bites. No water. When I was little and didn’t have the appetite to finish my food (throwing away was not an option), I’d find my dad, step on his foot, and he’d open his mouth, like a garbage disposal. I always got a kick out of that.
He taught me to ride my first bike, even though he never learned how himself, having been too poor as a kid to own one.
Last month, on father’s day, I took him kayaking – his first time – and enjoyed the reversal of roles; he listened to my instructions and I calmed his nerves, reassuring him that the damn thing wouldn’t turn over and we would not drown in the Charles River.
My father was, is, and will always be my standard of a Man. It’s his birthday today, and I’m as silly as he is when it comes to showing emotion – we’ve never said “I love you” to one another. But the tears won’t stop streaming down my face as I think about everything he’s been in my life. I love my dad and I can only hope to find for a partner, a man half as strong, honest, and good as he is.