My dad is currently in Germany, teaching at a foreign university for a few months (in German! How cool is that?). The distance makes sending cards and packages, and Father’s Day in general, a little bit difficult; but about a week ago, I figured it out: I’d write a blog post about him and my favorite memories of us, which he could read when- and wherever he wanted to. What an excellent surprise! Except that I’m terrible at surprises, so of course I told him before I even got started.
“I hope my blog post will do you justice, Bop,” I said over Skype.
“Why don’t you look in the thesaurus under ‘awesome’ to get you started in the right direction?” he said. “Intelligent, cool, funny, handsome…”
But getting started was actually a little bit more difficult than I had anticipated. I can write blog post after blog post about someone I love, but actually condensing your whole relationship into a page or so is pretty difficult. I considered a laundry list of memories, but that didn’t feel quite right. So instead I decided to talk about the things my dad has taught me.
My dad has taught me to have a love of books. When I was a kid, he decided that he was going to read me all the children’s classics – Narnia, The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, The Secret Garden, you name it. For years, every night, he would read to me at bedtime. He would take me to Barnes and Noble every month (and sometimes more than every month, to my mother’s financial frustration) to look at books together, and often let me pick one out to take home. He would often surprise me with a book on my pillow when I came home from school; one that he had picked out for me at the library, or at a second-hand bookstore. Every few years, when I decided that I was finally going to Clean Out My Room and Be a Neat Person, he would help me clean my bookshelves (and say nothing of the candy wrappers he found there) and reorganize my little library. I attribute much of my love of reading and writing to him, and to the ways that he encouraged me.
My dad has also taught me a love of languages. He speaks seven fluently, or semi-fluently: Dutch, English, German, Latin, Spanish, Italian, and French (though he will humbly contest you on this; it is, after all, nearly impossible to keep them all up at once with equal proficiency). This is the reason that I brush it off when people are impressed with my four; it’s not impressive until I surpass him. (;
|Dancing together, circa 1996|
My dad also taught me to appreciate music. He always regretted that he never taught my brother and me about classical music and composers; but even though he didn’t, he did teach me to love listening to music, to play it loud and dance, sing along, and let it fill my heart and spirit. I’ve mentioned it before, but my dad would often put on the song “Our House” by Madness, beckoning my brother and me to his room to jump and dance on the bed, singing along to the music. His car has a five-slot CD changer, and he usually has several of my brother and my favorite CD’s for us to listen to when we drive together: two for my brother, two for me, and one for my mom and himself (ah, the selflessness of parenting). For my ninth birthday, he gave me a yellow CD player; for my nineteenth, a stereo with huge speakers that let me play my music loudly enough to fill the room (I know, our poor neighbors).
Recently, my dad has started playing the Peanuts theme (“Lionel and Lucy“) on the piano before we have dinner. It’s one of my favorite songs, and my new rule is that any person I marry has to be able to play it so my kids can have the same experience. (Good luck, Ken.) Every time I hear it, it fills me with happiness.
|In my Halloween halo, circa 2001|
|Dressed up as hippies together, in April 2004|
|Playing Chrononauts with my brother, November 2009|
My dad taught me how to have fun. Some of my greatest, most awesome memories are with him. When my brother and I were kids, he would take us to Philadelphia to visit the Franklin Institute and the Academy of Natural Sciences; he would sometimes pick us up from school to surprise us and take us to a movie. When I was ten, I decided that I wanted red hair, so we dyed together (and didn’t tell my mom beforehand, though she ended up liking it). He always joined in and took a huge role in my birthday and Halloween parties, dressing up as different characters and helping to lead the whole production as Dumbledore, Frankenstine, Mad Scientiest, the killer in my “Murder Mystery” party, and many others. We participated in community theater together, which encouraged my love of performance, community, and imagination.
|Walking with my brother in Amsterdam, June 2010; tan lines from the Camino visible.|
My dad has also shown me that it’s never too late to do something you have always wanted to. For years, he had wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago, or Way of Saint James, in Spain. The Camino, as we now refer to it in my family, is a pilgrimage through Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. For my dad, it is a four- to six-week journey in which he walks for hours every day, along mountains and highways and plains. Unbeknownst to me, it is something that he had wanted to do for many many years, and finally did for the first time when I was 15. He has now done it four times.
This is one of the most important and lasting things that my dad has taught me. He is now in his fifties, and doing the Camino every few years at an age that most people think would not bode well for hiking (though the Camino is actually something done by people of all ages and different backgrounds). I have so much respect for him for doing this, and for the many activities and skills that he has picked up for himself. It is one of the things today that inspires me to step out of my box and try something new when I want to.
|At the zoo, circa 1998.|
|My dad talking with my brother at the lake, circa 2009.|
But most of all, I think my dad has taught me what unconditional love is. There isn’t enough I can say about this. He has taught me about forgiveness: once, when I was eleven, I lost an inter-library loan book, the fine for which was $40. I came crying to him, afraid of being yelled at; he gave me a hug and we drove to the library, and he paid the fine without ever saying a negative word to me. When I, at age ten, was curious about the effects of bleach and created a perfectly bleached circle on our bathroom rug with a bottle of cleaning spray, he switched it out with the one in his bathroom so I didn’t feel bad. This example of how to deal with the little mistakes of those around you, and especially of children, has been an enduring example to me of love and acceptance. It has influenced the way I deal with my brother, my friends, my partner, and all those around me.
He has also shown me that loving a person means taking a role in their interests. For me, it was the Lord of the Rings; we bought extra books, colored in maps of Middle Earth, and went to see the movies together in the theater (several times). When I began to like fashion design, he bought me books about it, and practiced my drawing with me. When I briefly wanted to become an interior designer, we bought a few magazines at Borders so I could make collages with them; when I wanted to become an actress, he joined in community theater with me, and quickly became the star of the show. He has always supported my interests and passions, and has done the same for my brother with dinosaurs, watching movies and reading books with him, and going on a trip to Montana last summer to dig for fossils. What this has taught me is how incredibly important it makes someone feel when you take an interest in their life, when you try to understand them and their passions, and when you show them that you take those passions seriously and find them important. It is something that I plan to do with my own kids someday.
The unconditional love he has shown me throughout my whole life is an enormous part of the person I am now. It has made me feel important and secure, and it has taught me how to show love to other people. It has made me a better friend, daughter, and human. I am incredibly grateful for that, and I hope and believe that it will influence my life and behavior until the day I die.
Parents are not perfect. One day, you realize that the person you always thought was a superhero is actually a human just like you, only a few decades down the line; that they don’t always know what they are doing, and don’t have all the answers. When I look at pictures of the day I was born, I am shocked to see how young my dad seems; only a handful of years older than I am now, seemingly way too young and inexperienced to be a husband, and father to a little baby. But my dad and mom have done their absolute best to give my brother and me an warm and stable childhood, and a house filled with happiness and love. For all their human mistakes and flaws, they have never given up on doing their best and being the best parents they can be. I can only hope that I will be just as great for my own kids one day.
|29 July, 1993|
Happy Father’s Day, Bop. Thank you, for everything.