Saturday, March 24, 2012

Happy Birthday Dad

Do you remember your first... memory?

My first memory is with my dad. In Ohio, when I was very very little, before school and before worries and stress and before I even knew what the word "sad" really meant, dad would take me on walks. We would go visit mom, who worked part time at Layne Bryant in the mall. There was a place in the mall... a store? A kiosk? This place sold little clear and pink lollipops on long clear plastic sticks. They were wrapped in clear plastic and tied with a shiny bow. Dad would get me one every time. Still to this day, if I see one being sold anywhere, I buy it, and bring that distant memory back.

As I got older, we would still go on walks when my stress-free elementary weeks were over. I especially remember the walks when it was warm outside. There was a small black dog behind a fence that I would stop and pet along the way. Dad would look at the flowers in our neighbor's gardens and tell me what they were called. We would stop in the local grocery store, whatever my dad had on his list escapes me. But in the absence of the cute clear lollipos sometimes we would find Tootise pops, one of each color, all wrapped up in a bunch. Then we would walk on, so dad could get his weekly lottery ticket. There was a liquor store he would go to for the ticket (never liquor) and every time we went there, the man behind the counter would reach into, what seemed to me, like a three foot tall glass jar and take out a giant pretzel stick and hand it to me. We walked back home, I munched on the pretzel and dad would tell me what we would do that day.

Dad is very proud of his annual vegetable garden. I was always a girly girl and somewhat always afraid of dirt and bugs and worms. Ok, I wasn't afraid, I was just grossed out. But dad wanted me to help, so I did. I remember one day picking up something shiny. He asked what it was, when I suddenly realized I was holding a slimy earthworm. I swear I flung that poor worm halfway to Cleveland.

When the potato harvest came around in the cool early Fall months, we would go outside to the garden and gather up the remains of the garden before the first snowfall. We still do this, even though I'm not home all the time I still try to get out to the garden and see what kind of treasures I can find.

Some nights dad would take me to the local Chinese restaurant, Bo Ding. We would sit and eat our General Tso chicken and eggrolls. I don't remember our conversations, but I remember very much looking forward to our "daddy date nights," which my eight year old self liked to call them. There was something special about being with just dad, as opposed to dad and mom as a pair, which did happen quite often as well.

Though my teenage years were difficult and we did clash quite often, I always knew in the back of my mind, no matter how hard I tried to deny it, that he was just trying to protect me.

And when it came time for me to drive, and I left the headlights on while I was at work one day and the battery died in his car... I wasn't mad at him, I was mad at myself for letting him down. And I know (now) part of his frustration with situations like that (I was just as flighty then as I am now...) weren't just personally directed at me. It's hard to see your baby grow up, and it's hard to let go of those carefree weekends you once had.

Now dad is turning 60, though you would never guess his age if you met him in person. We are having a birthday party tonight. I'm in a reflective mood this week, as our family likes to celebrate milestones and remember all the good times that led us up to the current event.

And, my readers won't understand this, but we will. The tradition of me giving my father his birthday presents late still stands, as what I have in store for him is at this very moment is being created, but not in my hands right now. So in lieu of a gift at the moment, I'm writing this. Hopefully to bring back some memories, maybe crank out a few tears. I think it's important to look back and remember the important people in their life and how they helped you grow.

Though he may not realize it, I learned so much from dad. He taught me how to roller skate, how to fly a kite. He *tried* teaching me math. We all know that was a lost cause anyway, but I remember the nights of difficult math homework, and he tried everything he could to get me to understand it. I remember one night sitting in Wendy's with him, and he explained to me how a nuclear power plant worked, because I asked him what he did in work all day. As a ten year old, I may not have understood it all, but I was so proud of what my dad could do.

He taught me about weather. For as long as I remember, dad had on the weather channel. His weather radio still to this day beeps with storm warnings. We would sit outside in the summers on our front porch swing and watch storms roll in. He taught me what all the little shapes on a weather map represented, and how to track a hurricane.

He taught me that we have to know when the time is right to let go of a pet.

He taught me that guy who just dumped me isn't worth my sadness and tears.

He taught me that if something bad happens, I just have to get back up and move on.

He taught me that family is the most important thing in life. And so did mom, and so did my little brother.

There's really no other sappy way to end this other than simply saying, I love you, daddy.