I remember well one of my dad's most favorite stories to tell about me as a young child. He told it often and actually still tells it from time to time. It must be one of his favorite stories. And so the story goes something like this. A long time ago, when I was really little, my family and I were on a drive out to visit some family friends. Apparently I was upset, as I often was, at my dad because I was under the impression that I was not going to be able to swim that afternoon and I had been looking forward to swimming. Unbeknownst to me, my swimsuit was en route with the rest of us because there WAS going to be swimming involved that afternoon. So anyway, my dad did something he used to do all.the.time. Oh wait, he still does this...and I'm 33. As he was driving he turned to the rest of us, his captive audience, and said, "Who loves Dad?". My mom and my brother Kelly both put their hands excitedly in the air and shouted, "I do, I do". I sat there silent, no doubt with my lip turned down and dad said, "Well, what about you Ashley?". And what did I say at the tender age of 5 or 6? "Dad, I don't love you...I don't even like you".
It can be rough to be a dad. I don't know this from experience of course, but I do know that sometimes dads get the short end of the stick. I'm not even going to try and lie and tell you that I didn't have a favorite parent growing up. I did. And it was my mom. Just like I'm not going to lie and tell you I don't have a favorite child...oh wait, yes I am ;).
My whole world revolved around my mom. We had the traditional family set up with mom at home, slaving away to raise happy children and dad off supporting the family. He traveled a lot, we didn't see him a lot, and well, mom used phrases like, "You just wait until your dad gets home!", which don't exactly instill a longing in a kid for her dad to eventually get home. I remember I got more spankings from my dad than I did from my mom too. So he was sort of the "hard" parent and my mom was the "soft" one.
When I fell off my scooter and scraped myself up, it was mom kissing and bandaging my injuries. Later when I had problems with friends, it was my mom who helped me solve them or listened as I cried. And even later still, when boys broke my heart, it was mom that I called first. Yet never once did I question that my dad loved and cherished me just as much as my mom did. I always knew he did. His love for me was as sure as the sun would rise every day. I still can't say exactly how my dad managed to let me know of his love for me though I have lots of ideas. But he did. I guess in that magical way that dads who aren't really involved with a lot of the day to day nitty-gritty manage to convey love to their kids anyway.
It was in the occasional embraces, the proud looks, the gentle guidance, and the occasional very stern reproaches that let me know I had crossed a line. It was also in quiet moments he never even knew I was aware of, like the time I fell asleep in their bed watching the Oscars when I was in the ninth grade. I weighed 100 pounds by that point and instead of waking me to go to bed, he carried me to my room, gently laid me in bed, and pulled the covers over me. I was far too big to be carried to bed, but he did it anyway. And also in the time he tried (in vain) to lovingly critique my latest poem. I was a budding poet in junior high school and I wrote an absolute masterpiece one day. I proudly showed it to my dad and he exclaimed about how wonderful it was...but there was just one problem. I had written the line, "Alas, it was the dawn of a new day". I had meant it to be happy (like, "yay! A new day is coming!") and had used the word "alas" inappropriately. My dad lovingly told me of my mistake. I was NOT appreciative at all and felt offended for days afterward. In those days, constructive criticism was not on my radar.
But I'm grateful for his guidance now. I'm pretty sure my dad never changed my diaper, brushed my teeth, or sat with me in the bathroom as I heaved into the toilet (Although, he did once take me to the emergency room when I hurt my neck. The doctor's name was Dr. Crick. True story!). But he did teach me to be strong, resilient, and to persevere. He helped mold and shape me into who I am today. He taught me the importance of education and the pitfalls of a weak mind. For these gifts I am grateful. I am now and was always aware that he loves me. And I think that is the best gift he has ever given me.