My dad is a drummer. Of course he has been the heartbeat of my life, a metronome keeping time, the metric against which all men are measured.
Nothing is more important in this world to him than my little sister and me. That’s an extraordinary thing to be, to even say out loud — to realize that you are someone else’s most cherished, most treasured in this world of scams and short attention spans and unending selfishness.
He is always tapping to some inaudible rhythm made visible on his knee, the steering wheel, table tops, always keeping the beat. 2/4 time, I think. 4/4? I am not a musician. I inherited none of that talent. But I look so much like him there is no mistaking I am his.
Genetics are a fascinating lottery. I inherited so little of his discipline, his easy pragmatism, his time signature. I am a clotted tangle of anxiety with no rhythm. I can only follow. I can respond to the rhythm of another and beautiful things happen like math — accurate and predictable.
I could say that everything I am is possible because of him, that he is the admiring architect of everything I am capable of because he raised me to believe that the world was mine — every choice was mine. Whom I date, whom I leave, what I major in, what I do for a living, what I quit, what I think, how I feel, where I live — all of it — it is always and only mine. He is a real feminist.
“You have your mother’s sixth sense,” he states like a fact when we talk about The Gift of Fear. “I don’t care if you can prove anything. That doesn’t matter. Your instincts are sound.”
He has been both soldier and officer. A lot of people lie on their resumes out of perceived necessity but he actually is both a team player and a natural leader.
He is a retired colonel. A two-time veteran with a daughter born on Veterans Day and a civilian career in helping children with learning disabilities and speech impediments. Yet.
“You girls are my most important job,” he says matter-of-factly.
I feel like I’ve accomplished so much less than he had by this age but he is always proud of me.
“You are exactly where I’ve always wanted you to be,” he tells me when I sit them down to tell him I will be quitting my dream job. That it had become a nightmare.
I was stunned to hear that. My hands stop shaking a little bit.
“You are beholden to no one.”
The panic attack that had been immolating me for sleepless days pauses, dims to a pilot light for a brief moment, a blissful reprieve.
“All I’ve ever wanted for you girls is that you are free to leave any man or any job you want. No questions asked. You don’t have to depend on anyone. You will always have a home.”
I have done exactly nothing to deserve this much love, support, and safety. I am grateful. But painfully aware of how rare this gift is.
Well I’ve been afraid of changing
‘cause I built my life around you
— Fleetwood Mac
My sister and I grew up with an abnormally large number of friends and boyfriends who had lost a parent, mostly dads, to cancer, suicide, brain aneurysm, freak accidents, and even older parents who died of natural causes, (no less painful of a loss to the families they left behind). We were acutely aware of how easy it was to lose a parent. Their reality was a possibility I feared but took comfort in knowing that my parents planned for everything. We always knew that if anything happened to them it was written into their wills that we would go to our favorite aunt and uncle, also the devoted and loving parents of two daughters, just one branch of an extended family we love.
My Catholic parents are more prayerful than religious. In 2016, my dad hiked to the top of Spencer’s Butte to pray that Hillary Clinton would win. The tallest peak within a two-hour drive in any direction.
“I wanted my prayers to be as close to God as possible.”
He cares about the world we live in.
When I poorly try to explain some article I read about sea turtles mistaking floating plastic for jellyfish and eating it, dying with literal pounds of garbage in their stomachs, and ask him not to throw plastic bags or wrap in the trash he responds, Anything for the sea turtles.
He sips a thimble-sized nightcap of cream sherry in the evenings and reads the paper every morning, meticulously clipping out articles for me about Mexican politics or retirement planning or adorable animals.
Some dads are bank robbers or philanderers or deadbeats or drunks. And I did nothing to be born to one of the good ones. One of the greats.
How can we celebrate Father’s Day when so many are hurting? What about the rest of the year? What about every other fatherless family holiday?
Happy Father’s Day to the good men, the champions of their children. Your dedication is exquisite, your children are cherished. Happy Father’s Day to the incredible men raising other people’s children. Family is not defined by blood but by love. Chosen family is family. And a heartfelt Happy Father’s Day to the men who aren’t good dads yet. It’s not too late. You can always be your child’s “home” in this world.
Years ago, my dad and I were talking about which songs we want to be played at our funerals. My mom shuddered and said it was too morbid a conversation but my dad smiled and said he wanted Mötley Crüe’s Home Sweet Home.
I won’t imagine a world without my dad but if I could make a wish every Father’s Day it would be that everyone has a dad who feels like home.