To get a sense of who my dad is, take a look at the pictures of him with his grandkids over the years. They tell the story. Here he is playing a game of Horsie, here he is teaching kids how to fish, here he is in the ocean, playing a game, reading a book, tying a tie.
Though there are many fewer pictures of my dad interacting with my brother and sister and me when we were children, the story was the same. (The only group photo I have is above – perhaps a function of being part of a generation that was much less documented than the current one.)
He came to our games, our Back to School Nights, our recitals, our concerts. He wanted to hear from each of us about how the day went every night at dinner. He had catches with us in the backyard. He went in the ocean with us in New Jersey every summer and taught us how to play Chicken, where you have to float with your feet facing the oncoming waves.
I will admit to wishing he were less involved on the days when I got in trouble at school. My parents were a one-two punch. My mom would lecture me in the afternoon, and then my dad would come home in the evening and take the Lord’s name in vain when he heard what I had done. He had a habit of roughly smoothing out the strands of hair on the top of his head during those conversations, which I fear contributed to his early hair loss.
In retrospect, he was strict, but not unnecessarily so. I shudder to think how much brattier I would have been if I had not feared the words “wait til your father gets home!”
As I transitioned from my teen years into adulthood, and especially into my 30s and 40s when I was grappling with issues around coming out, my relationship with my dad transitioned also. He was less of an authority figure and more of a confidante. You might not expect a middle-aged lesbian to be turning to a former investment banker in his 80s for emotional advice, but that is just what has happened. He really listens — with a calm, clear-eyed way of sizing things up that has helped me find my center time and time again.
The other day I came across a card he sent a number of years ago when I was working through a tough situation. Age provides some perspective, he wrote, and though he did not want to sound at all Pollyanna, he said he knew that I would have better days.
The man is not just a supportive father. He’s actually great company.
He loves to talk about politics, sports, business, and many other topics. He’s an avid reader and is knowledgeable and current on a wide variety of subjects. And he is genuinely interested in other people, striking up conversations not to make small talk, but because he enjoys learning about the experiences of others.
He’s also very funny. His demeanor is reserved, but when you listen to what he is saying, you realize he makes lots of quick-witted observations and remarks. He’s a great storyteller and has taken a number of writing classes in retirement. My favorite story was one he wrote about having to learn how to type at age 60 when everyone got their own desktop computers at work. He took an online keyboarding class developed for children called “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing!” His account of doing poorly on the words-per-minute tests, which included alligators chomping at letters as you typed, was hilarious.
All of this is not to say that everything was perfect or that there was never an angry word or an unpleasant day. But my dad showed up. There was never a time when I worried that he would not be there or questioned whether or not he loved us. The pictures remind me that he has been a constant support for my mom and for each new member of his family as they have arrived. I know his steady presence has been especially important for my son through two divorces and a lot of upheaval.
My dad was talking recently about his own father, who passed away before my siblings and I were born, and said he was a special guy. That’s how I feel about my dad. He’s special. I didn’t appreciate him when I was young — I just took it all for granted. I don’t now. I just hope this smart, funny, loyal guy who has quietly done so many good things for other people understands how adored and admired he is.