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 just 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 of him. Here we go! I thought. This is going to be great! And then… nothing. He was silent. I stared at him in anticipation. I wanted to shake him to see if maybe words got stuck and might fall out of his mouth, but no, just a matter of fact look stayed on his face.
“That’s IT!” I cried. “What happened? Were there sharks? Did you see a 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 off he went.
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 soon learned my father was wired to tell stories different from my expectation.
My father is a man of few words unless you want to talk about religion or politics. It’s an all or nothing scenario. He’s not a talk about the weather kind of guy. You either plug into where his thoughts are, or you can choose to stay out. 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.
There have been, however, 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 superficial reaction this information sometimes received. So, she downplayed the fact that he was a surgeon and involved in real life and death situations many times while he worked at the hospital. There was also many a time she would even scurry us upstairs when he got home from work so that we wouldn’t be under(his)foot.
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 living room 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! He didn’t mean 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. Not the story I was looking for, but I knew I was on my way to understanding his style of storytelling.
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 own 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 story 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 when my father laughs. It’s like some of the story inside him I so long for is spilling out 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 always honored with the presence of my father, 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 honey bunch. 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 own 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