The smell of cigarette smoke rose off the paper bag wrapped tightly at the top. Tucked alongside the brown glass quart of Falstaff beer were a half dozen Snicker bars—enough for the six of the eight of us kids still living at home. A true pay day delight.
Reading Father’s Day tributes, I’m compelled to give one to mine as best I can. This requires calling forth memories.
Dad’s return from the Rinky Dink Bar on Friday nights is one of mine. Also in my memory bank is the time he pulled a splinter out of my foot and the silent drives in the white panel truck taking me to Bancroft Junior High on dark evenings for my book club. Most heart touching is that of him carrying my seven-year-old body down the stairs to the car to head to the hospital when I had a horrible headache.
That about sums up the good memories I’m able to call forth about my dad and me, apart from a few nods of approval when I handed him a straight A report card or pranced for more in a new Easter dress.
Dad not attending my wedding wasn’t personal. He was absent from special events and the daily lives of the entire family living at 607 Cedar Street. Even the joy of opening of presents around the tree on Christmas Eve could not draw him out of the bedroom on the other side of the living room wall.
Having a dad who suffered from alcoholism meant I would always have a high level of vigilance about my own drinking and a higher level of proselytizing to my own children about theirs.
Not depending on a parent was great training for being independent enough to hitchhike hundreds of miles, travel abroad alone as a teen, and dare to try running a law firm.
Having a dad who lost jobs due to his drinking and often drank up his hard-earned paycheck when he had one was a gift, too. I knew how to be happy eating college dinners of fried noodles with ketchup and riding my bike to campus for my work study role of scraping garbage at the college cafeteria. To this day I feel lucky each time I fill my gas tank to the top and don’t have to say, “Five dollars on pump 2.”
Dad died on Christmas day nearly 40 years ago. Years later I learned more about his life with his own dad. I have no memories of my paternal grandfather, but now know he treated my father with utter cruelty. A new understanding opened my heart as I realized the sorrow that no amount of cheap beer could drown.
While I won’t be giving any gifts this Father’s Day, my deeply held intention is to remember to live this lesson of compassion that took me so many years to open. My hope is that the next time I find myself comparing, judging, or blaming, I remember Dad’s gifts to me.
What gift from your father do you appreciate?
Have you ever realized a gift long after it was given?
How will you appreciate your father this Father’s Day?