Whenever I think of my father, music starts to play. My dad and I have always been acutely aware of the other’s faults. There’s no “daddy’s girl” dynamic here. As a minister, I was always a source of trouble and embarrassment for him, because I was far too wild. Our relationship felt firmly based on the premise of me being the person he thought I should. With the death of my mother, and the realization that life was too short, my desire to perform evaporated. His very swift remarriage also did nothing to mend the already flimsy fences. We allowed our relationship to stagnate. We would occasionally talk for hours, shouting over a gulf of disharmony, while simultaneously ignoring it. Then we would go back to our lives for months on end. As the years passed, those conversations more infrequent. In my mind, since I wasn’t who my dad’s spiritual ideal, I wasn’t someone he particularly cared to know. In his mind, I was disappearing.
My phone rang some time last year and it was my girlfriend saying, “You need to call your dad.” They’re members of the same congregation, and he asked her when she last heard from me. My dad doesn’t ask about me. He said, “I never hear from her, and I have no idea what happened.” She asked if there was a fight. There hadn’t been. I avoided him, because I wanted to avoid the inevitable storm of disagreement on you-name-it: how I raised my kids or chose partners. The disagreement about marijuana and tattoos. I was able to breathe. As time passed, I was able to focus more on the hard angles of the man who raised me and justify my abandonment.
Until that phone call.
Then I began to remember my dad, who despite all his harsh edges, has a surprisingly tender heart. When he would listen to beautiful music, or watch emotional scenes on TV, he would excuse himself to get his emotions together. I remember seeing him on stage talking about God, and how much He loved us, and I could see his eyes becoming full from the audience. Sometimes he would pause; others, he’d just keep going and casually wipe his eyes. If you didn’t know him, you wouldn’t notice it. But he’s my dad, so I knew. I knew, before my friend even told me, that he got teary talking to her about me.
He’s responsible for my vastly diverse musical taste. One evening, we sat in the car, waiting for my mother to get off from work, and Steely Dan’s Aja came on. “See anybody can fool around on the drums. But you hear that? That’s playing the drums. That’s drumming. You’re listening to music.” My dad sang everything, whether it was waking us up, or warning us that we were about to fuck up. “Yooooooooou must have forgot…who yo daddy iiiiiiiiiiiis.” Jerk. But that’s the dude who raised me.
So much of what prepared me for the world came from my dad. My mother was the one who taught me to keep getting ready. My father taught me how to be ready. He knew I would be different. He knew I would be wild. He knew I wouldn’t be afraid to go it alone, and so rather than coddle me like a princess, he equipped me like a tank. So I was who he called for help with home repairs, furniture assembly, car repairs, and anything else that would aid in my self-sufficiency. I’m forever grateful to him. Because of him, I’ve never been unwillingly stuck in a situation. That is a gift. He’s one of the most brilliant, resourceful people I know. So while not a daddy’s girl, but I’m definitely my father’s daughter.
My family has gone through a lot, but there was a lot of joy in my home as well and my dad was essential to that. My friends always saw him as this stern character, but I was always really good at making him laugh. Between that and his stories, that’s the only way most outsiders learned he had a sense of humor at all. I made myself forget the sweeter parts of our relationship and my upbringing, because that made it easier to stay away.
So I talk to my father more. We’re not quite on Uncle Phil-Will Sunday status, but we’re getting there. I miss that guy. And he misses me. And I’m sure we’re going to bump heads about my choices soon enough, but that’s okay. I’m not looking forward to it, but that’s part of being in a family. Being there is far more important than avoiding an argument. I only have one dad. After five years away from home, I’m visiting before the year is out. I haven’t made enough memories with him, and we have a lot of time to make up.