My heart caught in my throat when Mama Xanax sent this picture a few days ago of my dad and me. Over thirty years later I can still remember the joy I felt every time he returned home from one of his many business trips. That’s probably a John le Carre’ book in his hand, and in each pocket is some sort of trinket from wherever he’s been – one for me and one for my brother.
For the last several days I’ve thought about what I could write about my father. One little story that would encapsulate the history of our relationship and all the things he’s taught me. The problem is, there isn’t one little story to be told. There are hundreds. There isn’t one little thing he taught me. There are thousands. There is so much more to my father than I could ever write.
My dad is the reason I have such a colorful vocabulary. When he can’t find something he needs, he can be heard muttering loudly, You’ve gotta go on a god damned treasure hunt to find anything around here. When he’s fixing something around the house – a broken garbage disposal for instance, he often uses what he calls magic words. If the project is particularly challenging, he often uses nothing but magic words. When people do stupid things, it really chaps his hide. Some people just can’t tell their ass from a hole in the ground, you know.
He also passed on his most important philosophy about health to me. It’s simple: Feed a cold. Feed a fever.
And his philosophy about family. It’s simple too: Love your family. Tell them often.
The summer after I turned 12, my dad, mom, brother and I went camping at Lake Mendocino. I was acting like a typical bratty tween, sullen because I, unlike my athletic brother, was having a terrible time trying to learn how to waterski. I missed my friends and my lip-shaped phone. I spent hours staring at the Duran Duran poster I had hung on the ceiling of my tent.
One night my dad asked me if I wanted to go to an astronomy presentation that the park was putting on. We’d get to look through telescopes and hear talks about the stars. I’d get to stay up really late, and it would just be the two of us.
My dad held my hand as we walked through the campground, filled with the scent of smoldering campfires, and hiked up the hill in blackness to an opening in the trees where telescopes were pointed at the night spread above us. It was the first time I had ever seen other planets. Mars was shining a dull orange through the lens. Venus was a bright orb of light that almost looked like a spaceship. The park ranger had us lie on our backs and look at the deep sky while he pointed out constellations and told us the stories behind them. My preteen angst floated away on a breeze, and I was mesmerized. My dad and I have been stargazing ever since.
I never miss meteor showers, even if they’re at 3 a.m. on a work night. The last fog-shrouded eclipse had me in tears because I couldn’t see it. I humiliated a very nice man once because the first thing I do in a new place (or an old, for that matter) is to find the North Star. The first app that both Dad and I downloaded to our Androids? Google Sky Maps, of course.
Two things in my life that have been constant: the sky and my dad.
And like Sarah Williams, who said it first, metaphorically and literally, I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.
Thanks, Dad. I love you.