My Photo
Location: Midwest, United States

I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

RSS Feed

Monday, January 11, 2010

Had a Dad, Part V

The fact that I still adored my dad in an unambiguous and uncomplicated way when I was eleven is perhaps more remarkable. I was no longer completely obedient. I had fallen in with a bad crowd at my Chicago grade school, kids who had starting to smoke and wear thick black eyeliner back in fifth grade. Now I was in sixth grade, and I’d begun dabbling in shoplifting, experimenting with skipping school when I thought I could get away with it, and lying to teachers on a semi-regular basis. But none of these experiments in juvenile delinquency translated into rebellion against my dad. I rarely lied to him, at least not on purpose, and I never talked back to him or strained against his authority. His was, of course, a particularly gentle brand of authority. But I don’t think that matters. When kids are trying to be bad, they don’t need an especially strict or harsh parent to rebel against. Still, I never rebelled against my dad. When I was caught slipping a lip gloss into my pocket while I was at the drug store with my dad, and we had to go to an office in the back of the store and be interrogated by the grim-faced store detective in his shiny-kneed polyester slacks, I wasn’t sure what my dad meant when he said, “You can be sure that E. will be punished when we get home.” This time, I thought he might really mean it. I was punished, but not much more harshly than if I’d gotten caught stuffing clothes under my bed when I was supposed to be cleaning my room. I merely got fifteen minutes of “sitting on a chair,” and a short lecture. It was the lecture that got me, though. My dad didn’t yell. He didn’t don his clench-jawed mad face. He just said, “That was not smart. Don’t ever do that again,” then added, “Don’t you know that if you want a lip gloss you can just ask me, and I’ll buy you one?” He seemed tired and sad with disappointment, he seemed to assume this was the first time I’d ever done something like this, and I felt terrible. I remember resolving never to shoplift again, then thinking maybe just never with my dad. Then I realized that if I got caught again, my dad would hear about it whether he was with me or not. So I resolved never to get caught again. 

But even in this brief period where I was toying with the idea of being bad, my dad was still my best friend. I went home for lunch to our empty apartment, and while I ate my sandwich and apple, I’d call my dad at work and we’d talk on the phone. I did this every day. When I was in sixth grade. I have no idea what we talked about, but we talked. For ten minutes, maybe fifteen. And then we’d hang up, just like that. Later, when I went off to college and talking on the phone with my dad became an exercise in discomfort and trying to get off the phone with him an exercise in frustration, I looked back on these little daily phone calls with amazement.

We still went to the movies. Maybe I was a little embarrassed if I saw a kid from school there with a bunch of friends while I was there alone with my dad. But I just felt that flush of social mortification, then moved on. Once my schoolmates turned to go into their theater and my dad and I walked on to ours, it was over and I didn’t think about it anymore. I didn’t consider that I might just stop going to the movies with my dad. That was not an option.

At some point during sixth grade, I heard some sad story on the news about someone dying, someone with kids, and the story focused on the family’s loss, the kids left behind without a mom or dad. It struck me that my dad could die, a thought that was too horrible to contemplate. Like all kids, I worried about the people I loved dying. My mom had been a chain smoker, and when I was seven or eight I essentially badgered her until she finally quit smoking. In fifth grade, my grandpa had come down with some mysterious illness that made him fall asleep without warning, once while he was driving. I worried a lot during that period that he would die. But I lived with my dad most of the time, he was the one who was there every day, and he was always healthy and had no particularly dangerous habits. It never occurred to me that he might die, until I heard this story that day in sixth grade. It made me feel so awful to think about losing my dad, about him dying without knowing how much I loved him, how much I really really loved him. My family has always been very demonstrative, and my mom and aunts always told me they loved me, and I told them I loved them. My dad and I said “I love you” every day, probably multiple times a day most days. But still, I had this fear that my dad would die and I wouldn’t have expressed to him just how much I loved him. So I started hiding little notes all over the house, in places where he would find them, that said “I love you, Daddy!” or some variation on that. Back then, I almost always addressed him as “Daddy.” I’d hide these notes inside his dress shoes, in his vitamin bottles, tucked into his folded t-shirts toward the bottom of the pile.

My dad taped those notes up over his dresser and his desk. When we moved into my grandparents' house later, when I was in high school, he transplanted a couple of them to his new room in their basement. They stayed there for years, the construction paper fading and getting soft around the edges.


Blogger Feral Mom said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:20 PM  
Blogger Feral Mom said...

Wow. First tears, and if I know you, won't be the last, dammit. Such a powerful story. You have hella balls/ovaries to tell it here.

Please keep going! I (and I am sure many silent others) am listening.

My word verification sounds like a sleep aid: sterbsta. As in, Sleep disturbed? Try Sterbsta! Sigh.

8:21 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home