I am two or three years old*. I’m on stage at our church singing my first solo – Away in a Manger. My hair is curled and I have on a lacy dress. Is it blue? I can’t remember. I am standing in front of the mic singing and he is below, at the bottom of the steps, with a camera in his hand. He is skinny and has thick brown hair that sits atop his head like a football helmet. He has a mustache that looks like it needs to be combed every day.
He is Daddy.
I am six year old. I am wobbling down our Wisconsin driveway on two wheels. He is running along beside me. “Pedal faster!” “You’re doing great!” “Keep your head up!” “You can do it!” He lets go and I take off, exhilerated at my accomplishment.
He is encourager.
I am seven years old. We are driving in the car and the tape deck is blaring Paul Simon. He is singing loudly, drumming the steering wheel. “I can call you Betty and Betty when you call me, you can caaaallll meee Al. Call me Al.” He laughs and I laugh too. And together we sing.
He is fun.
I am nine years old. It’s Christmas morning and my brother and I are sitting at the top of the steps waiting for our parents to let us come down to open presents. It’s 4:00 am. I hear mom stumbling through the kitchen making coffee. She comments about the ungodly hour of our awaking and I hear him laugh. The he comes around the corner singing “We wish you a Merry Christmas” and we know it’s safe to come down. We tear into the living room to see the tree lit and him dancing around it.
He loves Christmas morning.
I am ten years old and we are at Busch Gardens water park in Tampa. I want to go down the big, plunging water slide but I’m nervous. He tells me that if I do it he will do it. Never one to back down from a challenge, I go down the water slide and he follows suit, shaking his head the whole time. “I didn’t think you’d do it,” he admits sheepishly as he climbs the stairs.
He keeps his promises.
I am eleven. He brings us into the living room and sits us down. He tells us that he got a new job and we’re going to move to a place I’ve never heard of – St. Louis. I cry and react with prepubescent flair. “I don’t care if it’s a neat city. I don’t know anyone there. I don’t waaannnna go.” He is probably hurt by my reaction, but he doesn’t let on.
He is understanding.
I am twelve years old. The neighbor boy is taunting and pushing me so I take a swing at him. He swings back and a full blown fight breaks loose. I land a punch and he takes off running. Later that night his mom calls to inform us that I gave her son a black eye. After I get the obligatory “you can’t get into fist fights” lecture he looks at me and grins, winks and says, “Way to go, slugger.”
He is awesome.
I am twelve years old. My mom received a call in the middle of the night that her sister was in a coma after having a severe reaction to a surgery. I get home from school and he is there, standing in the kitchen – waiting. “Where’s mom?” I ask. “She left on a flight to South Carolina,” he answered softly. “How’s Aunt Joy?” I ask, dread settling in. He pulls me close. “She passed away,” he whispered. This is my first encounter with death. And he holds me.
He is comforting.
I’m in eighth grade. My parents have temporary custody of my three cousins. The house is filled with emotionally confused children. We fight incessantly. He is in the middle of Washington University’s MBA program. Life is hard. I walk into his room one night to see him sitting at the desk staring blankly at the wall. I give him a hug.
He is stressed.
I’m a high school sophomore and I play saxophone for my high school Jazz Band. We are in Columbia for the All State competition. We are playing a difficult piece that I struggled to learn. We win first place. As a former Jazz Bander I know he is excited. I see him clapping his hands raw.
He is proud.
I am sixteen and I’ve had my driver’s license for all of 48 hours when I go to a school football game. While pulling into a parking space I hit another car, denting my car all the way down the side. Let me say that again for effect…I hit a parked car! I call him from a post-game party at a friend’s house after deciding that I shouldn’t let my guy friends try to bang out the dents with a hammer.
He is angry.
I’m a high school junior and I’m sitting on the floor of my room trying for the life of me to figure out the sum of x divded by y multiplied by 4,899. Algebra…the bain of my existence. He comes in and sits beside me. He takes a halting breath and tells me he lost his job. Then he cries and apologizes. He is out of work for several months before getting a pretty interesting and lucrative offer in Seattle. It would be a great career move. But he ultimately declines and accepts a job here in St. Louis that is a 25% pay decrease so he doesn’t have to uproot us.
He is self sacrificing.
It’s the summer before my senior year and he takes me on a trip to Colorado for a week. We challenge each other to climb mountains, we white water raft and we spend a week exploring. He lets me vent and complain about all my teenagery problems. I am angsty and hormonal and not always pleasant, but he pushes forward and we make memories – just the two of us.
He is involved.
I’m a senior in high school and preparing to graduate. Our church has a Sunday morning dedication to graduating seniors and he blubbers in the microphone about how I “better not bring home some snot nosed little Texas boy asking to marry me.”
He is a softie.
I am a sophomore in college performing in my first dinner theater. He stands in the back and video tapes the whole thing. I can hear him whistling and shouting on the tape.
He is supportive.
It’s 1998 and I’m studying in Ukraine for a semester. He calls and says he’ll be in London over Thanksgiving and asks if I’d like to meet him there. He picks me up from the airport on Thanksgiving night and we go to a Pizza Hut in London for dinner.
He is a great date.
I’m a junior in college and the family comes for a long weekend. I introduce them to a “friend” named Lee who spends an odd amount of time talking with them. Later when they drive home he tells mom that “that boy was awfully interested for someone who is just a friend.”
He is discerning.
I am twenty two and we are preparing to walk down the aisle. I have tears in my eyes as I look at him. He looks back with tear filled eyes. I am grateful for him and I know our relationship is going to change….I didn’t know it would change for the better. In that moment I was so flooded with love for him that I turned into a weepy, blubbery mess.
He is Father of the Bride.
I’m twenty five, lying in a hospital bed, and I hand him a squirming little bundle. He picks up his first grandchild and smiles gently. Even though I know that hospitals make him uncomfortable and he’s worried about how I’m doing, I see his face light up.
He is Grandpa Boss.
I am thirty *ahem* and I need business advice. I call him and he spends time he doesn’t have talking with me, giving me guidance, editing contracts and developing my professionalism. I call, email, text him multiple times and despite the fact that he is wicked busy, he takes the time to help me out.
He is advisor.
He is wise, discerning, strong, tender-hearted and giving. He loses his temper easily but is even quicker to ask for forgiveness. He is humble and I can almost guarantee he’ll tell me I’m giving him much more credit than he deserves. He is gracious and funny and has a wicked sense of humor. He works hard (too hard) but also knows how to relax.
He is Dad.
And who am I? I am that proud and grateful daughter who kind of adores him.
Happy Birthday (a day late), Dad. I love you!
*There is a great likelihood that I did not get all of the details of the early memories exactly right. They often appear to me as small snippets, like a technicolor film (never black and white…I’m not that old). I did the best I could to list accurate details. 🙂