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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.
Every time I see a baby or toddler in an uncomfortable itchy lace dress, I am grateful that my mom always let me be comfortable. While she put me in the requisite dresses, tights and Mary Janes for photos and at holidays, she also let me rock a t-shirt with a giant panda on it for the first day of school. To this day, I tease her about forcing me into an Easter bonnet with a massively uncomfortable chin strap when I was probably about seven years old. I thank her for letting me take off my Communion dress less than ten minutes after we got home from church to let me play baseball in the street with my brother and cousin.
I remember as a child, playing hours of games with my mom, countless matches of Rack-O, Memory, Uno and Chinese checkers. I remember laughing until our sides split fast-forwarding the scene in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” when the mother sings that crappy song while doing laundry. I remember my mom making my brother and I absolutely delicious breakfast for dinner, and alongside her many great culinary successes, her entertaining failures. There was the time when she attempted to poach fish for Chris in wine cooler (sort of like wine, but not really … hey, this was the 80s) and foam billowed out of the pan. I remember that microwaves were going to revolutionize convenient dinner-making as we knew it … but the chicken didn’t need to be cooked for an hour. We could have bounced it off the wall and never let her hear the end of it.
Mom and I have always enjoyed shopping together, even when I was younger, and all I wanted to do was wear my brother’s hand-me-downs. While she admits that she couldn’t have handled a prissy girl, I don’t think she asked for a total and utter tomboy who didn’t willingly wear dresses until the 10th grade, either. One of my favorite moments came when she was in a dressing room with me and we were eavesdropping on another mother-daughter pair in the room next to us. The mother and daughter must have not been seeing eye-to-eye about a clothing choice, as the mom yelled, “This isn’t a democracy, it’s a dictatorship!” Mom and I burst into laughter – to this day, it remains one of our favorite quotes and moments. Years later, we realize it is difficult for us to shop with anyone else because we love to make fun of clothes in the store. It’s never quite as funny laughing at a pair of shoes, only to find out that your shopping companion really thinks they’re hot.
My parents worked opposite schedules – my dad was home with us in the morning and mom was home with us after-school, dinnertime and nighttime, for the most part. To this day, I’m not entirely sure if my dad just really believed in mandatory school attendance or he didn’t want to be home with us during his time off (frankly, I don’t blame him either way), but we were almost never allowed to stay home from school. While I credit this to making me a much better worker who has to be at death’s door to take off sick, I remember feeling slighted by senior year that I never got my requisite “cuts” that everyone else was taking. The year was almost over and mom knew I was antsy. Even though she threatened on a daily basis that college would rescind my acceptance, (does anyone know anyone this have ever happened to?) I remember one day that mom chose to make me very happy. It was probably late spring – before I turned 17 and had my full driver’s license. She and my dad were going into the City that day, probably to see a show. She called the school and had me released at 11. I was able to finally enjoy an almost full skip day. Oh, she also let me take off a day at the end of the year to work at my retail job, too. I think she was just tired of arguing with me by then.
My mom is my best friend. The reason it works as well as it does is because she is my parent first and my best friend second. I talk to her every single day, sometimes multiple times a day, and this has always been the case – whether I lived at home or in Georgia. There was only one time in my life that we didn’t get along well, during my senior year of high school. I think this is a hard time for anyone, as I was trying to exert independence at that age and I was mostly just pissing my parents off. My mom was frustrated by the slacker guy I was dating – to the point that she called my brother at school, begging him to come home and knock some sense into me. I was whiny, defiant and difficult – in retrospect, I’m sure I generally sucked to be around. Once I went away to college, everything changed. We both gained the space we needed and I was able to recognize when I needed her for support, advice or just a good figurative smack upside the head.
I couldn’t count the number of times my mom bailed me out of things – an unaffordable phone bill at college, letting me charge a pair of jeans to her my freshman year, paying for groceries when I couldn’t afford decent food. My sophomore year of college, I got the bright idea to try to “touch up” my own hair, since I couldn’t afford highlights at the time. Two days before I was due to attend a formal event with my boyfriend, (photos galore) I turned my hair highlighter yellow. If you’ve ever done something like this, corrective color is not cheap. I called her late at night in hysterics. She called her hairdresser who offered me advice to hold me over until I could get into a hairdresser the next day. My mom then offered to pay to get my hair fixed and never expected a penny back.
My mom is always there to dispense advice, whether I ask for it or not. Although it is always well-intentioned, sometimes it’s not well-received. One example was when she sent me a copy of that oh-so-awesome mid-90’s cult classic book, “The Rules.” Thanks, mom. Nowadays, it tends to be in the form of news clippings and articles from Oprah.com. My mom used to write me letters in college when they didn’t own a computer and people were just beginning to e-mail. I have every single letter or card she ever sent me. My freshman year, I continued to spiral. My grades were total crap and I lacked direction. She wrote me a seven page letter, detailing her hopes and dreams for me (which clearly did not include a 2.3 GPA and hooking up with frat boys). One thing that stood out the most was when she said that she wanted more for me, that she didn’t want me working a “dead-end retail job.” Coincidentally, I happened upon this letter when I was about 24 and I was working in retail. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry at the time.
My mom had major spine surgery the summer after my junior year, which required round-the-clock care. Due to my dad’s work schedule, it made the most sense for me to be home with her during the day and for dad to be home with her at night. The first weeks when she was bedridden, we adopted a fabulous theme of watching movies where people die. I don’t know how I came upon this great idea, but there are many movies that fit it – “Love Story” and “Beaches” were two of our favorites. My dad came home one day to find us sniffling and sobbing in bed – “Enough of the movies where people die!” Once I switched cinematic themes, she did enjoy “Swingers”, though. By the end of the summer, she was well enough to go see The Cure with me at Jones Beach.
Every time my mom and dad take a vacation, my mom would come home, show me photos and recount what I would have enjoyed. Finally, my dad decided that she and I would benefit from a girls’ weekend away – loosely translated, a girls’ weekend equaled an eight-day cruise to Mexico out of California. It was the first and only time that we have spent that much time together, just the two of us, and we had so much fun. I will always remember trying to make towel animals together on the cruise ship (unsuccessfully) and freezing in Cabo during one of the coldest days in its history. The unsuccessful creation of towel animal sculptures reinforced our lack of arts and crafts talents. For as long as I can remember, my mom and I took on a variety of art projects that always looked like they were done by a four-year-old. Yes, I had a Bedazzler.
I look back on 30 years of memories of time spent with my mom. I remember the things we’ve laughed at when they happened and the things we laugh at in retrospect. I think of all the movies we’ve watched, the hours we’ve clocked shopping and the hundreds of thousands of phone conversations we’ve had. I am always grateful for the close relationship we share and know that wouldn’t be possible if she wasn’t exactly the person that she is. I love my mom for her endless patience with me (I know it can’t be easy), her unconditional love and support, her selfless nature and her way of always making me smile. I love the advice she gives me; she can be opinionated but not judgmental.
Mom – I would never be the person I am today without you to learn from. I would never be where I am today without your constant encouragement and help every time I fall. I am so lucky to have you as my mom and cherish all of the time we spend together.
On this Mother’s Day, I thank you.