In a shoe box of my grandmother’s photographs, I found a photo my father had taken of himself. With his camera on tripod, and a shutter release in his hand, my dad took a photograph of himself in the bathroom mirror. His tie is askew, and his mouth open slightly, his gaze says, “Okay, let’s try it.” There is no mugging for the camera. No posing. For Dad, this was pure experimentation. And as an amateur photographer myself, I completely understand that compulsion. And that was Dad: Infinitely curious, always wanting to learn something new and expand his world.
My father was a whistler, and sitting on his lap while he watched the Friday night fights, he taught me to whistle too. My daughter, Alison, inherited the “whistle while you work” gene from Dad.
My dad taught me to ride a bike. And he also taught me to be brave. If something in life knocks you down, get back up. Try again. Keep going. And yet, he never exactly said that to us. He just lived it. And he expected us to do the same.
But when I think of my dad, I keep coming back to this word: Special.
As some of you know, and many of you don’t, I did not have the privilege of spending a lot of my childhood years in my father’s presence. So the moments I did have feel like precious jewels to me.
Special. My father always managed to make me feel special.
When he carried me around the hospital after I got my tonsils out, and he showed me the place where I was born, I felt special. And even though I demonstrated my life-long sensitivity to anesthesia by tossing my breakfast all over him, he did not get upset.
Special. Even when I’d done something to disappoint him.
When I was about five or so, Kurt and I got in trouble for doing something we’d specifically been told NOT to do. A neighbor’s yard had a fence that butted right up against a concrete drainage ditch. A tumble off the wrong side of that fence meant the difference between a broken arm and something far more serious. We had been told, in no uncertain terms, to stay off that fence. Needless to say, Kurt and I didn’t listen, and Dad caught Kurt and me red-handed. He blew his stack and marched us home. First up for the spanking was Kurt, and then came my turn. My first, and only, spanking from my father.
Afterward, he sat me on his lap, we talked . . . probably about the seriousness of the crime. I’m really not sure. But what I do remember is that, rather than releasing me to sniffle in my shame, my Dad taught me how to tell time. No really! He got a clock, and moved the hands around, and taught me. I don’t know how long it took. But I walked out of that room with the feeling that though I’d really messed up, all was forgiven, and in my little girl heart, I knew Dad thought I was smart.
When we’d take a picture together, and he’d wrap his arm around me, I felt special. When he called me “sister” when he spoke of me to my four brothers, I felt special. When he walked me down the aisle, and danced with me to Frank Sinatra’s “The Second Time Around,” I felt so very special. For us, second chances meant so much.
I loved the way his face would light up when I would see him again after a long absence, and the way he would look at me and blow me a kiss when we said good-bye. Oh man, did that make me feel special.
As a little girl, I wanted to believe, because I was his only daughter, that I held a special place in my father’s heart. I realize now that Dad’s heart was so big, that there was always room for all of us. And always room for one more, and another, and another.
As I tried to teach my daughter: Love is not a pie. When you give your love to one, it does not diminish your capacity to love another. Love is an ever-expanding force that grows as we give it away.
My father lived that every day of his life.