I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day

Tiny toes safe in daddy's hands
I don't know where this picture came from, but I remember being knocked out by it when I first saw it on the internet. Today I will use it to remind myself of how lucky I am to have been loved by my dad. Not everybody had a happy childhood, but I sure did. Firstborn and doted on by my young parents, I came into the world surrounded by love. I'm sure I was very strong willed, because I still am, and I come by it honestly. When I look at the rest of my family, I realize it's a trait I cherish.

Daddy was a gentle giant to me. I have a memory from long ago when he was holding me in his lap and I looked at my hand next to his. It seemed impossible to me that the enormous hand and mine might ever be equal. Of course they weren't, but I didn't know then why they were such different sizes. It made a deep impression on me, though, and I can still see it in my mind's eye. It made me feel safe to have such a protector. Daddy was my hero and I worshipped him.

When I was not yet three, my sister Norma Jean came into my world, and things changed, as I was no longer the center of my parents' universe. I have memories of jealousy and tantrums and remember being punished for hitting the little interloper while she lay sleeping in her crib. I'm sure Norma Jean's memories of childhood are not the same as mine, since she had me to contend with. But before long, we were constant companions, me her big sister. She looked up to me, which is just as it should be.

Daddy would sit me down and talk to me about things; I remember that he would sometimes start out by saying, "when I was a little girl," and I was happy to know that one day I would grow up to be a big strong man like him. There's even a little memory when I learned that it didn't work that way, a tiny sense of betrayal. After all, girls didn't grow up to be anywhere near as big and strong as boys did, so I wanted to fix that.

I remember being asked by grownups what I wanted to be when I grew up. Do you remember what you said? I suppose somewhere when I was very young I must have said a ballerina or whatever little girls wanted to be back then. But what I most remember wanting to grow up to become is a daddy like mine.

He was in the Air Force and traveled on TDY (temporary duty) occasionally. Our home was not the same when he wasn't there. Mama fixed meals for her girls, of course, but I remember that we often had pancakes or scrambled eggs for dinner instead of the regular meat, potatoes and vegetable that we always had when Daddy was home. My childhood memories revolve around the head of our household, and everybody else was a bit player. When I was about ten or so, I remember writing down my secret that I hoped Mama would die and Daddy would marry me. I slipped the little envelope where I wrote these thoughts into one of our encyclopedias. Remember when we had volumes of them on their own bookcase? I went looking for the letter years later and never found it.

I was only eighteen when I left home and married Derald, my first husband. I was pregnant with Chris and was forced to get married by my mother. I learned much later that she had kept the fact of my pregnancy a secret from my father. These days, nobody would even care if you were pregnant when you got married, wondering if perhaps you might have had a "shotgun wedding." Well, I did have one. How times have changed.

Daddy was only 62 when he died of a heart attack. Mama called me at my home in Colorado and said he was in the hospital and not expected to survive, and if I wanted to see him again, I'd better get down to Texas as fast as I could. Before the day was over, I was on a plane to Texas, along with my sisters and brother who did the same from their homes. We all made it there in time, so many of us that we had our own room to congregate in. One by one we got to see Daddy, and I remember him looking just like he always did, he was sitting up but had IVs and tubes everywhere. His lungs were beginning to fill with fluid and they wanted to put him on a respirator, but first he wanted to say goodbye to each of us. His last words before they sedated him were, "I love you all!"

We got to see him once more after it was all over. My sisters and I went into the room where his body lay, after they had taken all the tubes and stuff away. (I don't remember why my brother didn't go in with us.) Daddy was still warm and I saw beads of sweat on his forehead. We stroked him and cried and said goodbye. The memory I have is precious beyond compare, a moment when his five girls, the ones he had loved and laughed with and cherished, came together over the man who gave us life.

Now I am sitting here in my bed, laptop perched on my legs, tea finished, and partner softly snoring beside me. It's no longer dark outside, since the sun comes up now very early, and it's light out before I even awake. The birds, which have been singing for hours, are suddenly silent, and I feel the hush of the day before it begins. My garden needs to be watered before I head south to Snohomish, but I can feel the moment slip away, the one where I was transported through my memories back to the time when Daddy was with me.

I can say a little prayer, though, that everyone who still has their father alive will have a chance to be together with him in some way, on this day when we remember our fathers. I got to be with my dad through writing this post and kindling the fire of memory.


Linda Myers said...

Lovely, lovely post, DJan. Have a great time today in Snohomish!

Friko said...

I rarely think of my dad, he’s been gone a long time.
Your post reminded me of him, and I think I must give him a space in my heart again.

This is a lovely tribute to your dad and your love for him shines through in every word.

Linda Reeder said...

This is a very beautiful post about a very beautiful relationship.
Like Friko said, I don't think about my dad so much any more, as he has been gone about 15 years, but when I do think of him, it is with fondness. He was a lovely man too, in his own way. He had big, thick workman's hands. I think most of my genetic make up comes from my dad.

Rian said...

It is a beautiful post and tribute to your dad, DJan. I think of my dad a lot... and dream of him often. I hadn't thought of his actual death in a long time until your post. I held his head as his heart gave out... as the rest of the family cried. I'll always remember that.

Deb Shucka said...

Oh, DJan, what a lovely tribute. How fortunate you are to have that foundation of unconditional love and strength, and how blessed that you know it and are grateful for it. As someone who had quite an opposite experience of father, I am a bit in awe of what you had and thankful that you've shared it here.

#1Nana said...

Beautiful! Okay, I'll call my dad this afternoon. I'm blesses to still have him and have a good relationship with him.

Dee said...

DJan, this is truly a lovely posting, filled with treasured memories and with the knowledge that you and your father cherished one another.

Your final paragraph shows what your postings always reveal to me--that you see yourself as part of the whole/the oneness of the Universe and that every father's love enriches you and all who know the beauty of fatherhood. Thank you for this lovely posting. Peace.

Anonymous said...

Poignant memories, DJan. I wish I had such good memories of my father.

Red said...

Very vivid memories. Surprising how you can remember stuff from such an early age. Your Dad was a strong influence on your life and I'm sure he probably still influences you every day now.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Really a lovely remembrance of your dad. I liked my dad well enough, but my mom was the center of my universe. When we buried him two years ago, I was almost surprised to hear my brothers talk about how much he'd been a role model and inspiration for them. (He was away at war the first couple years of my life, which could explain why I didn't warm to him as many girls do with their fathers.)

Arkansas Patti said...

That was just a beautiful post about your Dad. Your love was in each word.
There is no relationship quite like the father/daughter one.
I think of my Dad so very often, he often appears in my dreams. To me growing up, he was the smartest, handsomest, kindest and funniest man I have ever known. In hindsight I know he was riddled with flaws but I never saw them. And that is how it should be.

Gigi said...

What an exceptionally beautiful post! I was already feeling guilty about missing my window of opportunity to call my dad today - no real excuse, except the day was busy and time got away from me and now it's far too late as I'm sure he's sleeping.

Jackie said...

This is exactly why I love to come here.
You write from your heart....and you touch mine
I am a Daddy's girl, so you know I cried hard when I read this.....

Buz said...

I guess my memories of that time could be false after 34 years, but I seem to remember you and I flying down from Denver together. I was stationed in Denver at the time, for technical training. And while I don’t remember being elsewhere when all of his daughters were in the room, I do remember being alone with Dad at one point just before he died. I was standing there like an idiot, wearing my Air Force uniform, and the last words I remember him saying were these: “What do I do now, Buzzy?” I didn’t have a clue, and I don’t even think I answered him. I guess I’m still haunted by that.

Sally Wessely said...

When I read what your father would say to you, "When I was a little girl," I said to myself, "No wonder DJan and I formed a connection." My father would say the exact same thing when I was a child! Like you, I identified most with him and wanted to be like him when I grew up.

The love and respect you have for your dad shines through in this post. It is great to be "Daddy's girl." I think that role in life is a treasure. Like you, my father never knew of things that my mother would never tell him where she forced her will on my life. That is another story to be told someday.

I miss my dad so much too. I feel fortunate to have had him until he turned 86. I was blessed.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Lovely recall of your Father..he was very important in your life!
I saw my Dad yesterday and today..he is getting older and more hunched over..today I noticed that I am taller than him if he is hunched over...he used to be so tall..we have the same hands..long fingers that are a little arthritic:)

Lorna said...

Beautiful and truthful post. Thank you.

Rita said...

Lovely, precious memories. You were one lucky girl. :) :)

Hootin Anni said...

This was such a wonderful post. The image, I have never seen, so it just blew me away!!

and LOVE the photo of you in the post below ---I had to smile big at your one comment in that post too..."My mom did my hair". Oh how I remember that myself.

Chatty Crone said...

I read your answer to someones post and I forgot who! Dang. It was a good answer so I came over to say hello. Hello. I loved that picture - I looked and thought miracle. sandie

Mel said...

Lovely, lovely post. My dad has been gone for years now too, but in certain still moments, I still feel his presence.

I'm so glad to know you and so glad you share your thoughts with us each Sunday, like a sermon, even though it takes some of us days to hear your message. I hope my last words are I love you all too. xo