Updated: Dec 30, 2020
When I was a little girl, I would ask my father to tell me stories of when he was little. He would say to me he didn't have any stories. I challenged him one day and said that, indeed, he did not stand still in existence until this very moment of me asking him to share. There had to be an in-between. I wanted to know the in-between.
"C'mon, Dad, tell us something that happened when you were little!"
"Ok, ok," he said one day, a little exasperated. "Once, when I was a young boy, I went fishing hip-deep in waters where there were sharks…".
I waded into the baited moment. I waited for more story to spill out. Here we go! I thought. This is going to be great! And then, nothing. Silence. I stared at him in anticipation. I wanted to shake him to see if more words might spill out of his mouth, but no, just a matter of fact look stayed on his face.
"That's IT!" I cried. "What happened? Sharks? Did you see one? Did you catch anything? Who was with you? Was it sunny, cloudy, stormy? Where are these brave waters?! What the heck!? C'mon Dad, tell me more!"
"Yes, that's it. I don't know any more stories." And he was finished.
He walked away or went off to work. I forget. I was perturbed. I wanted more! I wanted to know my father the way I knew my mother - with all the details, thoughts, and feelings that went along with the words and memories. I would come to learn that Dad was wired for story, just different from my expectations.
My father is a man of few words unless you want to talk about religion or politics or recipes or sports or doctor stuff. It's an all or nothing scenario too. He's not a talk about the weather kind of guy. You either plug into where his thoughts are or stand on the sidelines and watch. He knows what he knows, and he'll share it with you on his terms and in his way. This has led to misunderstandings and confusion at times if one attempts to dance with his story, but that's not to say he isn't a good dancer. In fact, he's quite good. He's funny, smart and very charming. He'll grab your hand and dance you 'round the kitchen, humming ballroom dance music to accompany the moment. It's lovely.
However, there have been a few missteps and squished toes along the way, but there has always been great love and energy shared when engaged in a conversation tango with him, but I have to admit, I'm still waiting to hear what happened in those waters! To know him is to love him. And realizing he loves you back is a high reward.
Growing up, my father was not around very much. My mother told us he worked at the hospital and operated on people's hearts. We all knew he was a doctor, but she didn't like to make a big deal about it because she didn't enjoy the reaction this information sometimes received out in the world. He was just our dad, and we loved him because love was the rule in our house. We loved it when he would let us step on his toes and then spin us around or let us hop on his back and crawl around the living room floor, us holding on tight, so we didn't fall off with his twists and turns.
Sometimes, when he was home, and we weren't upstairs, we would all sit together in the living room, and Dad would break out the slide projector and show us slides he had taken with his camera. I can still hear the mechanical circular slide holder moving and clunking around the projector, illuminating one slide at a time as they fell into the lighted slot.
One time, while sitting on the floor waiting for the latest birthday slides to be shown on our window curtains, and excited to revisit the day, up pops a picture of a live human heart inside a body, veins, and blood, and tissue, and what the hell Dad!? Where's the cake?! Just no. Now, what do I do? I cannot un-see this picture! I don't think he meant to include it in the presentation. The images got mixed up, he said, but he took the opportunity to talk about what he did and how the human heart pumps all the blood in your body and blah blah blah! Where's the cake?! (Story of my life, looking for the party and the cake that goes with it.) Thanks for the memory, Dad. It was not the story I was looking for, but I knew I was on my way to understanding his storytelling style.
As I grew, I learned to love and appreciate what my father did for a living. His career provided for his family. It also took him away from us. My parents divorced when I was in High School.
Now, I could sit and write a novel about the memories and stories during these years. I could tell you how divorce, as common and accepted as it is, remains a death experience where you watch loved ones go through their personalized destructive grief. Remembering these stories always brings back the tears, even now. The wounds are deep, and the healing life-long. I sometimes wonder if that is why my dad never shared much about his childhood. Maybe the memories would bring back tears for him. Or perhaps not. I don't know. I still stare in anticipation, waiting for more stories to come out of him so I can understand his insides better.
On the outside, my father is a handsome man. In younger years, he looked a lot like Gregory Peck. He exercises every morning and goes to work. He loves to cook and create in the kitchen. I love watching him cut onions while wearing ski goggles. When visiting him, he will tell you to sit down and try something he's been making. It's usually a simple dish, but seasoned and presented just right and just for you, with a full description of the where and who and how and why of the ingredients. Ahhhh, I think.Some story is spilling out... Listen!
He has an eclectic and unique way about him. He is practical and super smart. He loves a good joke and laughs well. I love it when my father laughs. It's like some of the stories inside him I so long for are revealing themselves, and I can bask in the knowledge of it for a few moments even if I don't know all the details.
Our family gatherings are filled with palpable joy and love and are always honored with my father's presence, who will bring delicious, whole grain bread, and Irish butter for the feast. He delights in his family, children, and grandchildren. He gives the best hugs and will call you a honeybunch. He will travel with you to Boston when your child might need open heart surgery to talk to the surgeon and make sure you are in good hands. He will send you articles, websites and books, so you can be informed about the world. He will invite you to go to 7:30 mass with him on Sunday mornings and then bring you cheese and berry danish from Panera afterward. He will come to your party and hold court about all the fascinating things he knows and places he's been, and you will be absorbed and share in his passion for making all things right in the world. He will exchange recipes with you and ask you about your story, so he might add it to his own and see how the ingredients mix. He'll call you, or now in recent years text, in the early morning hours to see how you are doing. I have to say I now share this early morning trait with him, now that I'm a little older. At times we'll have lively 5:30 am conversations about the world and grandkids and life. We've come a long way from his only story of standing hip-deep in shark-filled waters.
I have decided to stop waiting for my father to tell his story because Dad's story is here and now. It is his family and friends and God and country. It's a story I get to be a part of and like him, share in my way, mixing in ingredients that will bring out the best for all who care to dance with him.
Happy Father's Day, Dad! I love you