I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot lately. When he died thirty-five years ago, grief was rough and raw. With time, it has evolved to wistfulness, occasional wondering what he’d think of this or that, wishing he could be here to see the young women my daughters have become.
I remember being small enough to reach up for a door knob. I ran to the door, calling, “Daddy’s home!”
All through my grade school years, Dad followed with his camera, for every concert, every event.
I remember his deep voice reading to us from outside our bedroom doors, long after most kids have bedtime stories, choosing books he loved more than we did like The Wizard of Oz series and The Last of the Mohicans.
I spent my teen years fighting against his overbearing control and his temper. I saw him as overprotective, always needing to control us. I rebelled. When he bellowed, I yelled right back. Where I might have side-stepped a question or avoided a conversation, I didn’t wait for him to ask. I was in-your-face honest and dared him to disagree. Which he did, of course.
My mom would say, “You’re just like your father!”
I didn’t want to have a tinder-box temper or make others feel the way he could make me feel. Gradually I changed.
In college, I chose a field that he thought was a mistake, but the choice was mine. He had loved his college years and loved launching us on ours. My siblings and I knew he loved us and was proud of us by what we heard him say to others.
At the time Dad died, I was 21, fresh out of college and starting my first adult job. In the last few months of his life he helped me buy my first car, find my first adult apartment, start out my new life. I suspect that if Dad had lived longer, he would have continued to tell me how to live my life, but at the time he died, it felt as if he had let me go.
As my kids were born and grew, I grew to understand some of the mystery of my dad’s parenting choices. I am not the parent he was. But maybe I would have been if I had lived the life he did before I was born, instead of the secure life I did live. Maybe I would have made more of the choices he did.
When my daughters were born, I remembered Dad’s love of babies. He’d jingle his keys and try to get any little ones in his vicinity to smile.
When the moodiness and rebellion hit in my daughters’ teen years, I didn’t yell at them, but I understood how my dad might have wanted to.
When I let my kids stay up a little later and later as they got older, I came to understand the 9:00 bedtime my dad set even through my high school years. In a house with three bedrooms and six to eight people, getting us to bed had to be a relief.
When I waited up for my teenagers, I remembered Dad falling asleep as he waited up for me, clear through college.
Maybe I am thinking about him more because I am his age when he died.
I have been married longer than my parents, and more happily, I think. I parented with more freedom of choice, and my daughters turned out well. I made different choices than my dad might have chosen for me and I have few regrets.
But when I look in the mirror, I see his dark eyes and the same dark circles beneath them. I see his nose. I see hair almost as dark as his, but without the curl and not nearly as silver as his by this age.
When I look through his eyes, I see a daughter he’d be proud of. When I look through his eyes, I can feel his love.