I knew immediately after writing my Mother’s Day post I had to write one for Father’s Day, and as Rick said, the pressure was on to make this one just as good. It’s not hard to please my dad, though. He loves absolutely everything I give him. Each time I see him, he points out how much he enjoys the gifts I’ve given him over the years: the watch for Christmas, the Chicago shirt for his birthday, the Kindle for Christmas a few months ago that he can’t stop raving about. It’s rare to see someone so honestly and thoroughly enjoy the tokens of your feelings for him.
My dad had an unusual childhood; his mother died in childbirth, his first stepmother died when he was 5 and his second stepmother was not what you’d call maternal. Despite all of that upheaval, my dad is one of the kindest and most loving people I know. He has a huge heart, and he will call me to say “I just wanted to hear your voice.” He is unfailingly kind and loves to meet new people. He can find something in common with almost everyone.
He grew up in Chicago and left as a young man because he couldn’t stand the traffic. Lucky for me that he did, and that in the mid-1960s he married my mom. When they met he was working at a newspaper, and did that for about 10 more years before discovering the non-familial love of his life: aviation. He became a charter pilot, and flew people like Hillary Clinton, Bobby Knight and Pete Dye. He also flew organ transplant teams. He worked odd hours and was sometimes gone for birthdays and holidays, but he never forgot us, and would often bring back gifts from his travels.
My mom was the one who sang to us, but my dad was the one who read bedtime stories. We read the Berenstain Bears, the Serendipity books, Bill Peet and the American Girl books. Peet is a delightfully quirky author and artist, and to this day my dad and I are especially fond of one book called “Eli,” about a clumsy lion who says his fastest speed is “lumpity clumpity.” My dad has a great voice, and long after we could read for ourselves we would ask him to do it for us.
Both of my parents love to read, but my dad is the one who collects books. He has a huge personal library with authors ranging from Lois McMaster Bujold to Charles Dickens to Dean Koontz to Patrick O’Brien to Lawrence Block to David McCullough to Sue Grafton to Mark Twain. One of his favorite subjects is the Civil War. All of his reading developed an intelligence that my family was convinced would win him a fortune if he ever consented to appear on “Jeopardy!”, one of our favorite shows to watch when I was growing up.
I was pretty sick as a child with complications from asthma, and my dad would listen to hear if I was coughing in the night, then get up with me to administer the noisy breathing treatments. He also took me to my specialist’s office in the state capital, an hour away. After the appointments, we would have lunch, and depending on which clinic we went to, we would either visit a bookstore or wander through a gift shop. The first Barnes & Noble I ever went to was with my dad after a doctor’s appointment. Not only was browsing bookstores one of our favorite things to do together, it was a regular outing for the whole family. We would often go out to dinner — my dad’s idea of cooking — and afterward stop by the Little Professor, or Book World.
My dad has always loved music, and for several years after my mom gave him a trombone as a Christmas present (he had played one in the Army band in the ’50s), he took weekly lessons. He loved to wail on his horn, and I was happy he enjoyed it so much, though it was tempered by the fact his practice area was directly beneath my bedroom. He is a jazz aficionado, and I’ve always been sad that was one interest that none of us kids shared with him. He also has a weakness for romantic comedies, and he can never resist watching movies like “The American President,” “Notting Hill” or “While You Were Sleeping” when he comes across them on TV, even though he’s seen them dozens of times.
My dad takes pride in all of my accomplishments, and recently when we say goodbye on the phone he’s started saying, “Organize those Obama supporters.” Like my mom, he is always ready to give me his help and support; when I ask for a favor, his response is often, “For you, dear, anything.”
He has had a lot of health problems in the last few years, starting with a stroke and including a heart attack, quadruple bypass surgery and dialysis. Any one of those things could have killed him, and I am eternally grateful that he is still with us. I have tried to appreciate each moment with him, and I have savored some of the especially significant ones: diving off a pier at our favorite vacation spot. Attending a Purdue basketball game. Touring my hometown together so he could point out where relatives used to live. I will never be ready to lose him, and not because he thinks I can do no wrong, but because of everything I’ve listed here. This is another occasion when I won’t be with him in person, but we’ll talk and maybe Skype later so I can say:
I love you, Dad. Thanks for everything.