I could write this post about how crazy last weekend was, specifically Sunday, in which I ran a 10k (my best yet), led worship at church for only about the third time ever after having not been there for three consecutive Sundays, and then hosted the final stage of a progressive Thanksgiving dinner in my barely-moved-in apartment, with around 20 people and a million desserts my friend Carrie and I made from scratch the day before.
I could do that, and maybe I will, tomorrow, while I should be doing other things (read: working). But not just now.
Today is my Dad’s 60th birthday. If typing that freaks me out, I can only imagine how he feels. (Jk, Dad.)
My dad has, at various times, been at once my father, pastor, teacher, principal, choir director, and personal-Elmer-Fudd-impersonator. He has his father’s twinkling Irish eyes, a legendary mustache that I have never seen him in person without, an infectious laugh, and a love of salty snacks that he passed on to me, along with his penchant for predicting movie endings. (I’m kidding. I can never aspire to predict movie endings as well as my dad.)
Dad and I never had too much one on one time when I was growing up. This is one of the functions of raising/being raised in a family of 10 children. This means that the memories I do have of just us are that much more special.
When I was in –maybe 6th grade?–there were a few rare Saturdays, and even Sundays when I begged off of church because of a probably imaginary stomachache, when by some miracle Dad and I were the only ones home. During those afternoons, he taught me a little about sanding, varnishing, and refinishing the odd pieces of furniture that filled our house, or tried to, before being demolished by some elbow, or knee, or head, or all three in rapid successsion.
(He also tried to teach me to housepaint, at the expense of my Great-Aunt Marge’s shingling–which is a different story altogether and one any relatives reading this should immediately disregard).
As a broke young newlywed public schoolteacher, Dad used to paint houses during vacations for extra cash, and he still enjoys making run-down things beautiful and functional again (one byproduct of this is that we have a family tendency towards pack-ratting, with my mother attempting massive yearly purges).
But to return to the point: we had one desk that always sat in the dining room, so-called more out of courtesy and less so because anyone ever actually dined in it, a desk on which rested a Brother Word Processor, the kind that typed with yellow letters on a black screen. I wrote floppy disks full of terrible poetry about nature, none of which rhymed because that would make is less DEEP, at that word processor. Dad told me that if I sanded and varnished it, the desk would be mine.
I don’t know if I can accurately convey what those words mean to a fifth child, an angsty middle-schooler with Deep Feelings about the Sea and Sunsets and Things, to be told that something Will Be Yours. I was an acquisitive little booger. Seriously, in that moment, I could have told you who Dad’s favorite kid was. TOTALLY NAILED IT. HOW YOU LIKE ME NOW, SIBLINGS.
Jokes aside, I remember working on that desk. Dad taught me how to remove the old varnish, first with the coarse sandpaper, always going with the grain of the wood, moving to ever-finer grains until the wood was clean and smooth. He only helped me on the first step, checking to make sure I wasn’t going too hard or too fast.
I’m pretty sure I never finished that desk (at least, I have no idea where it is now). But all my best memories with Dad are the same: just the two of us, making something together. Attempting to build Mom’s pantry, or re-covering the end tables in the dubious basement ventilation. Figuring it out together, watching and learning and staring blankly at mismatched doors even though we totally followed all the alphabetical instructions. Companionably silent.
Of course, I was rarely helpful. He could have gotten it done faster–and with less stress, maybe some alone time that has been a practically nonexistent commodity for his introverted self these past 30-odd years–without me. But he didn’t. I always knew my father loved me, but those moments I knew it more.
I’ve lived away from home now for seven years, and we don’t talk too often, because of another trait of his I’m coming into: Dad can’t do small talk with close people. Small talk with strangers, yes. But not with family. It doesn’t work. He goes deep or he doesn’t go. This is a tendency I am discovering bits of in myself as I grow up, which means that our occasional Skype conversations from the Other Side of the World are legendary. We trade opinions about everything from Faith to Culture to Current Events. He tells me about the kids he’s helping, and I tell him about all the poop jokes my students make.
It doesn’t happen often enough for either of us, but he knows I’ll call, and I know that when I do I’ll be able to hear that grin start way down deep and come up with these words:
“Well, now, daughter.”
Happy birthday Dad.