Sunday, May 1, 2011
Dad to Me
Like most people, when I think of my parents through the lens of childhood, I see strong, stable if somewhat authoritarian figures looming large in my world as the most important presence. We rely on our parents for so much—food shelter, guidance and love. They are our first and perhaps most important mirror. As children we have neither the life experience or veracity to defend against the negative, or create the positive images of self as do our parents.
If little boys have varying degree of Oedipal complex at play where mothers are concerned, then how strong the bond between father and daughter?
'Piddy with the pennies.' One of my earliest terms of endearment in reference to my Dad. I've always had a penchant for alliteration, then no different. Dad used to bring shiny pennies to me at day's end, much to my delight. From where the "Piddy" part came, I don't know.
As a coin collector, those new pennies may not have been of great value to him, but the gleam of copper in my hand might as well have been gold. I'd scurry onto his lap lean my head against his broad chest and give the most valuable tender of childhood—a soul wrenching hug.
Dad was a businessman. It was not until I grew up that I found out just how great he was at what he did and how respected in his field. That kind of stuff doesn't matter to a kid though. The soft lingering fragrance of Old Spice, twisting the plain gold band on his ring finger wondering how anyone could manage to do the wonderful magic he did with hammer and nails, griddle and pancake batter, piano and sheet music using fingers that large. Compared to the delicate structure of Mom's and mine they were ginormous.
On Saturday afternoons after a long morning of errands and chores he'd lie on the couch and nap. Soft purr of a snore, the peace of an angel on his face, he'd earned those few minutes of rest. Whir of push mower, Dad in an old thin cotton undershirt, he pressed onward making our home the wonderful place it was. Testing tubes in the five and dime, picking up Danish at the crack of dawn, booty to bring home while they were still warm from the bakery, arms strong from waxing the car to new model shine; Dad toiled every weekend to live his version of the American dream.
Did I care then if our house was the prettiest on the block? Nah. What I did care about was having a strong male presence in my life showing not through words what it meant to be a good father and provider, but through his quiet actions.
Lakers playoff games, rock concerts at Hollywood Bowl and the Forum, canoe trips down a lazy river, ice cream afters at the Parasol Restaurant, Dad continued to be a part of my life as best he could manage to figure what events and memories would mean something to me. Classical concerts at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion downtown L.A., tuition paid in full with never a whisper of complaint at the (private) college of my choice (I could have chosen to attend the more affordable Cal State Long Beach or U.C. San Diego), taking me along to try out for the elite choral group of which he was a member, making sure I had a chance at an internship in downtown L.A. so I could see if the business world might be mine too—Dad thought it all through. Never did he force, never did he even suggest. He just made sure experiences were put in my path so that I might decide for myself what was, what is my bliss.
Dad was robbed of ripe old age by the neurological disease of Parkinson's. I lost him to it last year. It's funny how it takes absence to focus the lens of eternity on a life. I've had just a bit over a year to look back. I can tell you that with every passing day that hindsight becomes clearer and the guy with the sweat dripping from his nose as he toiled in the backyard and the man that made me cry by gushing over how proud he was of me at the most inopportune momentous of moments will always hold the most precious of places in my heart.