My dad was always at odds at home—he and my mom had four consecutive daughters before he got a son—and baby bro came along late, after I’d grown up and left the house. My last visit home was a combined Mother’s Day/get my youngest sister (a tomboy) ready for prom visit. With mom on hair, myself on makeup and the other two on hand making helpful comments like “I don’t understand why you didn’t go to a hairdresser—it’s like $30 and that’s for a professional,” it wasn’t long before the blowout turned into a full-on bitchfest. Bobby pins were starting to look like weapons.
A hostile hour later, when my sister emerged looking stunning, it struck me that I hadn’t seen dad, my brother or my boyfriend (who’d been roped into the visit as well) for quite some time. I ventured downstairs and realized my dad (the best cook of the family) had busied himself making soup and sandwiches for lunch. The dining room table had been set with a pretty tablecloth and flowers; I smiled sheepishly at him and he raised his eyebrows, a clear indication he’d heard the goings-on upstairs. My dad’s always had the ability to speak through his eyes—he never really had to yell, he could make us feel sorry for our wrongdoings with a single disappointed look—far worse than a lecture or getting yelled at, although those were sometimes called for depending on the circumstance. When my sister clunked downstairs clumsily in her unfamiliar heels, he joked, “Who are you? Where’s my daughter? What have you done with her?”
It’s only now that I’m in my twenties that I can fully understand and appreciate what it must have been like for him in a house full of females: tantrums, tampons and taunts. When the girls weren’t ripping into each other we’d sometimes team up on him: “Dad, get some new glasses, you look like a total dork”, “Dad, when are you going to get a new car, ours is so embarrassing”, “Honey, lose some weight why don’t you? Kids, tell your father he needs to start walking to work again.” My boyfriend says my dad is the most patient person he’s ever met.
He’s also one of the wisest. He never succeeded in making hockey players out of any of us (though this remains to be seen in my brother’s case; he currently likes to dance) but he did quote some hockey player (I can’t remember which, sorry) to my sisters and I, to lasting effect. Whoever it was said something like “Pick something you would do for free, then become so good at it that someone will eventually pay you to do what you love.” This was taken literally by my sisters and I, currently still in pursuit of our dreams.
My dad encouraged his daughters to question and to think deeply. I remember coming home from a party once and he was awake, in contemplation over something. “Do you think the universe was an accident?” he asked me in earnest. I sobered up waxing philosophical with my dad into the wee hours of the morning—not the first time, either. He told his girls we didn’t need makeup, holes in our bodies (AKA piercings) and that our opinions were of value. He encouraged our talents, artistic or otherwise. When I used to watch my boyfriend’s band practice in high school he’d ask me “Why don’t you play in your own band?” Eventually, I did.
I had a bad dream when I was little about an oversized black dog on a bicycle falling over and crushing me. Later, on three separate occasions, I scarred my face double riding, my legs when a pedal fell clean off my bike, and my hands when my wheel caught in the streetcar tracks of Toronto. Suddenly fearful of a fixed fate, I became convinced I would die biking and decided to sell my bike and never ride again. I told Dad of my resolve over the telephone. “I understand you’re scared,” he said, “but you love biking.” (It’s true and he would know, he taught me). “Yeah, but I’m going to die biking, I just know it,” I had said. “Well,” he began, and I knew I was about to see the light, “If you’re really destined to die on a bicycle, then fate will arrange it that way, don’t you think? Someday you’ll find yourself in a life-threatening situation where your only option for escape is a bike, and you’ll try your luck riding again before you just succumb to death. You might as well enjoy biking in the meantime, don’t you think?” And just like that, my childish fears were thwarted.
This Father’s Day, I will be celebrating a man who never challenged my femininity, but strengthened it with strength of purpose and passion for living.
Happy Father’s Day to fathers everywhere!