My father is a quiet man. A strange man, I suppose. He finds pleasure in few things: beer, fishing, watching sports on tv. I often feel sorry for him because I don’t think he has any friends and I’m not sure if he’s very happy with his life. But I also love him, very much. The way only a daughter can love her father.
We’ve always had a different connection than he has with my other siblings. The joke is that I’m his favorite child, but I think over the years the joke has grown less and less funny as my siblings regard him less and less. Which also makes me sad.
Right before or right after I was born, my father was laid off from his job, so my mother became the sole breadwinner of our small family for a short time. She went to work while he took care of my older sister and I. Of the four of us, I was the only one who he primarily cared for during infancy. Our family thinks this is where our special bond comes from.
I have no memory of this time of our lives, obviously, but there’s a story Mom loves to tell. My older sister was between two and three, I was under one, and Dad was making cookies in our small Buffalo apartment. Just the thought of Dad making cookies is pretty funny- he’s really not the domestic type at all. But anyways. He was making cookies, but left the apartment for a few minutes to retrieve a load from the laundry room across the hall. When he returned, he found the door shut and locked. My sister had locked him out.
I don’t know if he panicked thinking of his young daughters all alone in the apartment with the oven on, but I’m inclined to say he didn’t. He probably kept his head- he isn’t one to panic normally. I don’t know who he called, or how (this was before cell phones) but eventually he got back into the apartment, where he found my sister and I shut in a closet, my sister playing school with me as if I were her very own baby doll. I imagine he was relieved we were there, safe, but that isn’t part of the story, so I can’t know for sure. It would ruin it to ask.
There aren’t a lot of memories of my dad from my childhood. He worked, Mom raised us. Mom did the girl scout troops, the PTA, the class trips and awards ceremonies. But I remember every Christmas morning- my siblings convincing me to wake Mommy and Daddy up so we could open presents because Daddy wouldn’t get mad at Me. And fishing- on Lake Erie in a boat with my dad, my cousin Erin, and my Uncle Jim; and on the banks of a lake at a park near our home in North Carolina. I raced my brother back to the parking lot one time, tripped and skinned my knees so badly I still have the scars. My dad put me in his newly remodeled Chevy pickup truck and drove to the nearest gas station, holding napkins against my knee. He cleaned the wound with cool water from a pump outside the station’s store, gently, like my mother would have if she had been there. And I remember hiding his cigarettes because I hated his smoking.
My friend, Myron, used to ask me if my father worked for the CIA, because he was never around, never involved like my mother.
I remember a t-shirt I had in kindergarten, “Daddy’s Girl,” it said. Black fabric with white block letters. I wore it to an outing, some sort of party at my teacher’s house where we played Duck, Duck, Goose. My mother was there. I don’t think Dad was.
I remember finding a similar shirt when I was older, middle or high school age. It was also black, but with purple, glittery, cursive lettering also reading “Daddy’s Girl.” I imagine he has no idea I ever possessed any such articles.
I don’t know if this is coming out right. I never doubted his importance in our family circle. I never resented him for not being “more involved.” He took care of us the way he knew how- by working and bringing home a paycheck.
My biggest memory- the best- the one I’ll cherish for the rest of my life, the one I’ll remember one day when he’s gone, is the day I graduated college. My parents, sisters, and grandmother drove to Wilmington, attended the awards ceremonies, and took me out to lunch before helping me pack up my college life and apartment so I could leave. That night, back in our house in Burlington, standing in his kitchen, talking about God-only-knows what- probably not even really talking, maybe me just looking in the fridge- he said, “I’m proud of you.” Then, he motioned me over and hugged me.
It’s the only hug I can remember receiving from him, even though there are pictures from when I was little. I imagine that, unless I get married some day, it will be the only hug I ever get. But it let me know how much he loves me, and being the only one somehow makes it mean so much more.