Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Belated Father's Day Thoughts

Father’s Day has come and gone, without being made note of in my life. My husband is not a father, and both of our fathers are gone. I completely missed it this year. In a way, that’s a good thing. Because now, it just makes me sad. I don’t need a day that’s all about missing my dad. I miss him every day, anyway.

When I read other people’s accounts of their cuddly, huggy, smoochy dads, I have to smile a little. My dad was certainly none of these things. He just was not a physically demonstrative man. Nor an emotionally demonstrative one. He didn’t hold us in his lap, enfold us in big, fatherly bear-hugs. But we didn’t need those things from him to know that he loved us. We were a family of six women….and Dad. He was vastly outnumbered…I really don’t know how he put up with all that estrogen flying around. But he was always "The Dad." He was the provider. He was the teacher. He WAS Mr. "Know-it-All." An extremely intelligent and well-read man, somehow making do with being the patriarch of a family of daughters in Post-World-War-II suburbia.

One of my parents’ strictest rules when we were growing up was that we were all to be treated exactly alike. There was to be no favoritism at all; there were no dance lessons, or piano lessons, or sports teams, nothing that would pander to (or enhance) any of our individual talents. If an activity couldn’t be done by the entire family, it wasn’t done. To be fair, Dad was trying to put all of us through Catholic school on his salary alone…so there really wasn’t the money for any extra-curriculars. But I always got the impression that my parents were afraid that if they acknowledged that one daughter showed a talent for something, it would somehow be shortchanging the rest if they officially encouraged it.

Lately though, I’ve gradually become aware of an inkling…that I might have been my father’s favorite. I was the only one of us five girls who resembled HIS family, and not my mother’s. Pictures of Dad’s younger sister were VERY reminiscent of…me. (Or was I reminiscent of her…?) I was skinny as a rail, where the rest of my sisters tended to take after my mother’s plump, Hungarian heritage. AND, I had the same birthmark as my dad…a little fleshy bump on the top of my right ear that made me look like I was ¼ elf. Much was madeof that birthmark when I was a little girl, and the fact that I was probably the purest "Baldwin" among the bunch of us. When I was little, I thought that was only talk…

Now that I am older, and he is gone, I can see that maybe, just maybe, he had a softer spot in his heart for me than for the rest of the girls. I think he’d deny it to the death…but it may be true. There are some little clues… As we got older, the folks would just fork over checks on birthdays and anniversaries. They had no idea what we liked or needed as adults. But, I remember…I would get stuff like a set of knives and a knife block…or a chip and dip set…or a fishing pole.  And inevitably, I would hear, "Your dad picked that out for you…" And then there was our arrival in Oregon…when we moved out here because I couldn’t stand that my family had left me behind. We pulled into their driveway, after our long cross-country trip, with all our possessions and herd of animals in Little Pepe and a rented moving truck. My dad DID NOT cry. I can count on one hand the times in my life when I saw him fog up. But there were tears in his eyes and a catch in his voice when we jumped out of the car and went to hug him.

And, during his final illness, we all did our best to make him comfortable, to do the "nursing" things that none of us ever thought ourselves capable of doing. We had to set up his tube-feedings, make meals that we hoped he could/would eat, dress the infection that he had developed at the site of his feeding tube, deal with his bedsores… One day, my mom said to me, "He likes the way YOU do it" when we were talking about some aspect of his care. I was proud, humbled, devastated, and fiercely determined to do the best job I could…all at the same time. Which is actually a pretty good summation of my entire lifetime relationship with him.

Dad is buried on a little hillside, in a cemetery outside Eugene. If he was there, he could see the foothills and the mountains to the east, where he used to fight fire as a summer job during his college years. And he could watch the RVs leaving town on the most-traveled route between Eugene and the ocean he loved. But he’s not there. I don’t know where he is, but he’s not hanging around some marble orchard. I GO to the cemetery, I put flowers on his grave, but I don’t feel him there.

THIS is where I feel him:

Whenever I walk on the beach, there seems to be one seagull, all by itself, who will sit and watch me approach…stay for the longest time, and eventually fly when I get too close. And I say, "Hi, Dad!" Because I really think it IS him. Saying, "hi"…letting me know he’s okay, wherever he is.

8 comments:

  1. This is beautiful Lisa. I got chills when I got to the end. :-) ---Robbie

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  2. your entry today is very moving. i'm so sorry you have lost your father, but how wonderful to feel the connection with him through the seagull.
    deb

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  3. Oh Lisa, this brought tender tears to my eyes. Your father is also inside of you in your heart and in your memories  My father passed on almost 19 years ago. I was Daddy's little girl and he was my hero.  I miss him so very much. I drive by the place I grewup. We had 23 acres I know my dad is still there wandering around the cherry orchard. Sitting in the front yard facing east watching the mountains on the horizon, predicting the weather by the way the moon is tilted.

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  4. This is so beautiful.  Your father sounds like a wonderful man.

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  5. Ah yes said the youngster....as she too has felt her dad's hand in the warmth of the sun and in the cry of a lone seagull.  And there is a small dawning of the knowledge that we are more alike in this life than different.

    Prefect passage:  I was proud, humbled, devastated, and fiercely determined to do the best job I could…all at the same time. Which is actually a pretty good summation of my entire lifetime relationship with him.


    very lovely....

    PS:  "We've only just begun."  One of my many favorites...the Carpenters rocked.

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  6. So sorry if the day made you sad. :-(  Your dad does sound like an amazing person!

    I didn't note the day, either.  My father is still alive, but we don't have much of a relationship.  Haven't exchanged words since New Year's Day.  I wasn't sad on Father's Day, though.  I've just accepted that's the way it is.  

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  7. Sweet, touching entry- thanks for sharing.  Kristi

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  8. hestiahomeschoolJune 25, 2004 at 1:48 PM

    You are so lucky to have had him as a father. My father is alive, but we barely acknowledge each other...

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