DANCING WITH MY FATHER
It is amazing how much I have to say about my Father. Once upon a time, I would have said, “My stay-at-home Mother, the center of our household and my universe, influenced me the most.” In fact, she often shielded my Father from the day to day mini traumas that occurred naturally between my Sister and me, and other trivial pursuits.
My Father worked far too many hours schlepping pickles to be bothered with such details. Saturdays were spent schlepping us around doing errands, since my Mother didn’t drive until years later. Sundays were spent being a well-deserved couch potato watching the Chicago sports teams lose another game. Family vacations were short and short lived.
Moreover, my Father just wasn’t demonstrative. I’m not sure many Fathers in those days were prone to give hugs, let alone a peck on the cheek. But my Father had been a heavy smoker. He stopped cold turkey when Arthur Godfrey became the spokesperson for linking lung cancer to cigarettes. However, he quickly replaced his cigarettes with a toothpick, making it impossible to get close to him anyway.
My Father wasn’t verbally demonstrative, either. Apparently he was very proud of my Sister and me. But I never heard compliments directly from him. Instead I’d get them from my Mother after they had been out on a Saturday night. “You should hear the wonderful things your Father said about you to the Joneses.” I never did.
My parents came to visit us in Charleston only once, shortly after we bought our house. We were eating in our dining room when the background CD played, “Memories.” My Father said he loved that song; instinctively I said, “Daddy, would you dance with me?” Incredibly, he said, “Yes.” My husband leapt to his feet and ran up the stairs for the camera.
To understand the deepest meaning of this dance is to understand my Father never danced. He felt he had two left feet and therefore, just didn’t do it. But he did it that night. The two pictures proving it happened sit on my desk.
A few days before his 89th birthday, my Father suffered a minor stroke. Naturally it took a while to determine just what it meant. To deal with accepting the fact my parents were mortal like everyone else’s, I turned to writing my thoughts.
I took the “Everything I Ever Learned” theme and found the examples flowed; in his quiet way, my Father had been teaching me more than I could ever have imagined. Some of his life lessons came from his clever use of one-liners, many of which we called “corny.” He didn't mind. He probably knew we would view them differently someday. I was able to read what I learned at his 90th birthday party.
Time passed, and I found a quote that says, “Dance with your father. And not just on your wedding day.” It is in the picture frame on my desk, as is his obituary.
During the last two years of his life, the symbolic toothpick left his mouth, and the walls separating father and daughter came down. My Father’s greatest fear upon finding himself a stroke victim was being a “burden.” His disability was anything but. It gave my Mother, Sister, and me the chance to lovingly do for him as he had done so lovingly, in his own way, for us.
And it gave him a chance to teach me the most valuable one-liner of them all: “I’m doing the best I can.” For three glorious minutes, that included dancing with me.
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