People don't give fathers enough credit. No matter what the increasing paternal role in the lives of today's generation of children, we still don't think they can be as nurturing as mothers or can fulfill other aspects usually designated to the maternal caregiver.
My dad became a parent on the cusp of when it was considered "in fashion" for fathers to take on more of the down and dirty parenting responsibilities, and yet there is an undeniable bond. He was the predominant provider throughout most of my childhood, shouldering burdens of a weight I couldn't even imagine. His job took him away a lot, and I missed him more than you could imagine, but it never lessened the connection I felt with him. If anyone ever asked if I was a "Daddy's Girl", I'd speak up without hesitation.
Throughout my childhood, we seemed to connect best over sports, and I remember pursuing that interest like mad so that I would be able to forge that kinship even more when he was home. Many a great memory with my dad involved trips to old Riverfront Stadium, where even when the Reds were having a horrible season, we never saw them lose. When we still lived in Michigan, he took me to my first baseball game, which also happened to be when Nolan Ryan pitched his last innings against the Detroit Tigers. Ryan threw a near perfect game, and suffice to say the Rangers had an easy time (like most teams) of making the Tigers look like chumps. I remember that day was Bat Day at the stadium, which looking back seems rather foolish- giving several thousands of people in the middle of downtown Detroit full-size Louisville Slugger bats. It was hotter than hell, and the old Tigers stadium was a dump. Our seats were nosebleeders with no leg room, and as a bonus were positioned behind a massive iron support beam which was the structural standby during the era in which the place was built.
None of that mattered though. It was one of the best times of my life.
That's how it always was with dad. When he was around, that was my time with him. When he left the house, I wanted to go with him. Even a trip to the grocery store was special to me. He was also the funniest guy alive. We always had some sort of an inside joke that when uttered, my mother would look back and forth between us like we were nuts. She still does that.
When I moved out to Washington, my abrupt departure wounded him more than I could have ever expected, and there was a time when I wasn't sure if the rift could be repaired. I will never forgive myself for what that did to both of my parents all those years ago. I knew my mother and I could restore things, because I think that mother/daughter wounds just heal differently, but things were different with dad. I felt like I had betrayed not only my father, but my closest friend. I had never seen him so torn up, and I had never felt like such a horrific speck of a human being. My mother was kind enough to give me only glimpses as to his state at the time, but that was enough to let me know he had changed fundamentally. I feared that due to my own irrational, selfish actions, I had lost him forever.
Things slowly improved, with time being the ultimate remedy, and when I got married a year later, he told me as we walked out of the chapel how proud he was of me. I broke down crying for the first time that night. The prospect of getting married, which sends most brides into freshets of tears (usually of joy, one hopes), elicited nothing compared to hearing those words and knowing that despite everything that had happened over the past year, he was still with me. That I could make a real go with this new life of mine and he would be in my corner.
I miss him. Especially the occasionally sinister glint in his eye, and the understated, off-kilter humor that is always lurking beneath his quiet facade, letting us know that there is so much more he could say but it would go against his more reserved nature to bubble forth. When he does let loose, however, look out. Ask him to tell you some jokes on Easter Sunday or to dress up on Halloween, and you'll understand what I mean.
I attribute so much of my personality to both of my parents, and I cherish all of dad's aspects I see in myself, even though there is so much more of him I aspire toward. His amazing work ethic, for one, his strong sense of restraint, personal responsibility, and even his mad organizational skills. Maybe one day I'll get there. Well, maybe not so much with the organization. I've learned that being a slob is a tough habit to break.
He's grown more tender over the years with the introduction of his grandchildren, and I like that. I never saw him around younger kids very often when I was growing up, and watching the way he is with Natalie, Elias, and my niece Lucy gives me a peek as to what he might have been like when I was too young to remember, and I feel so much closer to him as a result.
Even though I wish there were fewer miles between us, I'm safe in the knowledge that he knows I'm happy here, and that he understands me better than pretty much anyone out there, that when we go a long time without talking, he has a perfect sense of where I am and who I am whenever we pick up the conversation again.
If any parent could have a benchmark for success with their kids, it would be whether or not the children as adults would have any desire to be like the ones who raised them. I often think that if I could be even half the person my father is, I'd be more than satisfied.
I love you, dad. You done good.