I have only one picture in my wallet and this is it. I think I am about three or four years old and I’m riding on my dad’s shoulders. He always says that this is why he lost his hair, that I pulled it all out. I inherited many traits from him, one being the inability to smile in posed photos. We both manage to put on the worst of fake smiles if photos aren’t taken candidly. I love this picture in particular because we were obviously goofing off before it was taken and I probably hadn’t mastered the art of the fake smile yet at that age.
Looking back at pictures when I was a little girl, you can see that I followed my dad everywhere. I wanted to be taller (because I thought that taller = older) so that I could go out with my dad when he went out with his friends or after work. When we were building our house, there are photos of me wandering around the construction site while he worked on it. I wanted to do everything that my dad did.
My dad has always loved horse racing as he and his mom always went to Belmont. My dad would take us to Belmont when I was a kid, but he never got the right results. After about two races, I would whine that I was hot/cold/bored/wanted to go to the playground. In hopes of keeping me still for just one more race he would give me $2 to bet on a horse. To be honest, I don’t think I ever won. And when I lost, I would cry until he would give me back the $2 that was never mine in the first place.
Growing up, I always loved board games. I’m sure that he was forced to play a few with me when I was younger, but he crafted a creative excuse to get out of it. Most games have an appropriate age range listed on them, such as “for ages 4-8.” According to dad, that was set in stone. Clearly, he was over eight years old, and if he was caught by the “Game Police,” there would be nothing but trouble. When I was older, I could usually get him to play Scrabble with me, knowing very well that all of his turns would take FOREVER. We were playing one time when after more than a few minutes of deliberation, he threw down “twinbeast.” I think I gave it to him, because even if it wasn’t a legit word, it was a pretty cool one.
We were raised as baseball fans in our house. I played all boys little league until I was about 10 and it broke my dad’s heart when I quit in favor of girls’ soccer (which he referred to as a “Communist sport”). It didn’t matter to him that I had a .035 batting average (which my brother figured out and would chant at me when I played) – it mostly mattered to him that I didn’t “throw like a girl.”
My dad would get us Mets tickets at least once a year and he took us out of school for the tickertape parade when they won the 1986 World Series. He also asked us to write something for school about what we learned. I was seven years old. Even a tickertape parade was supposed to be an educational experience if I missed school. Dad took our grades very seriously and didn’t like for us to miss school. Years later, I am not sure if he didn’t want us home with him while he was off from work or if he really felt that six hours of school were super important. One thing then that always remains true – dad is a great caretaker when anyone is sick. He has taken care of all of us through colds, fevers, wisdom tooth extractions, mono, surgeries – you name it. When I had mono and couldn’t swallow anything, he made sure that I had pastina, milkshakes and ice pops at my fingertips.
For most of my younger years, dad was home with us in the mornings to send us off to school. My brother and I were two of the least alert people before school and dad would often catch us staring blankly out the window while our waffles got cold. He would come in the kitchen, clap his hands and sing, “Pick up the fork and put it in your mouth!” Repeatedly. Dad was also in charge of making sure my hair was combed before I went off to school. He would sit me down and comb my hair every morning, sometimes re-doing my part two or three times to make sure that it was perfectly down the middle. He not-so-successfully tried to master ponytails and braids, but as he once remarked looking at a second grade class photo, “I must have done your hair that day.”
Although mom was mostly responsible for teaching me to drive, dad was the one who taught me how to drive stick. I also remember him exclaiming, “Jesus Christ, are you trying to kill me?!” when I pulled into traffic without looking, mostly focused on what gear I was currently in. Dad was the one who did most of the driving when I moved to and from college (15-18 hour roadtrips) and he was also tasked with driving me to the airport when I would fly back to school after holidays. Some of the best conversations that we have had took place during those early morning trips to LaGuardia. Prior to 9-11, it was completely feasible to get to the airport ten minutes before your flight and still board with checked baggage. Dad and I liked to test that theory. Nine times out of ten we would be running late, wondering if the plane was going to leave without me. I remember him slipping a few bucks to someone in the airport to let me jump the line as we ran through the airport. This was in stark contrast to mom, who would have us at the gate three hours before the plane was there. When I was in college, my dad always wanted me to dress up when I flew home. He felt that it was important to look presentable while flying – which was mostly not the case in general college dressing. I know that on more than one occasion in college, I wore either boxer shorts or pajama bottoms to class. My hallmates and friends always knew when I was flying home, because suddenly I was in black pants or a skirt.
As I said before, I inherited a number of traits from my dad. We both like to be the life of the party and we’re both storytellers. We love to make people laugh and we can always succeed in making each other laugh. We like to sing in the house when we’re home together and we like to dance, any chance we get, since, yes, we do have a choreographed performance.
My dad can fix or build anything, and I grew up taking it for granted that every male was like that. I was sorely mistaken. My dad can explain any part on a car or a dishwasher and tell why it’s not working. He built a deck and a shed from scratch and has remodeled most of my parents’ house. He just installed a shower curtain rod in my new apartment and is getting ready to make magic happen – he is going to turn a single closet with one bar into a closet that can actually hold things. When I first panicked over having one closet, I shouldn’t have. No one else could solve a problem like that as quickly as he could, or as effectively. He is the first person to drop what he is doing to help, even when need a car battery at 9 p.m. or I lock myself out of my apartment.
In the same vein, he has helped move me and my brother no fewer than ten times. One of my favorite stories involves my brother moving from Boston. He had a dresser or a desk that he didn’t want to take with him and the city wanted a ridiculous amount of money to dispose of it. Dad simply took out a chainsaw, cut it into many, many small pieces, put it in a Force Flex garbage bag and dropped it down the trash chute. When I was moving out of Charleston and we knew I wasn’t bringing home the couch, he wanted to launch it off the third story balcony. After all, why carry it down the stairs? Mom wasn’t onboard with that solution, though.
My dad has always helped me, no matter what kind of trouble I had gotten myself into. He has listened to my problems and offered me advice, even if I didn’t take it. He taught me how to treat people and to respect people for who they are. I learned from him that hard work is the most important thing – and that you can support a family well by doing so. He has shown me in the way that he loves and takes care of my mom, what a good marriage looks like. He has taught me about cars, music, football and the value of using a level when hanging anything on a wall. Mostly, he has taught me how lucky I am to have him as my dad.
Happy Father’s Day, daddy. I love you.