Today is my dad's birthday. It is late, but still, it is his birthday.
My earliest memory is of him: I think of it as a dream, a short film clip. I am wearing a red dress, there is sea and sky and a chain-link fence. Gulls swoop and squawk and my father lifts me toward them. That's all. I know, from what my parents have told me, that I was two or three and it was our first trip to the coast. We were on a ferry boat and Dad was lifting me to feed the gulls. Just thinking of it makes me happy.
Most of my family would say that my dad and I have always been the closest in our family. And in many ways we have. We could always talk about books, music, art, theater, movies, politics. Intellectual things. Even when I was a child, Dad never talked down to me, never treated me as a child. He encouraged me to read what I wanted to, shared books with me, took me to plays and movies, dinner in fine restaurants, once to New York, once to San Francisco.
He was somewhat of a Sunday dad. My parents separated when I was very young and divorced many years later when Dad wanted to remarry. That marriage, too, did not last, and for its own reasons. They did a good job, both my parents, to ensure that we remained close to Dad, that we kept a relationship with him. But even so, he wasn't around so much. Not for the everyday stuff of life. That made the time I had with him more precious, and I found that by talking with him about the things he was interested in, I could connect with him.
It was not until I was an adult that my Dad began to speak to me of other things. Of himself. His regrets. The things he's proud of. I began to get glimpses of who he really is, of his personhood.
And then we moved here. To the community where Dad has made his home for the last fifteen years. I took a job at the same college where he teaches. Now, for the first time since I was in elementary school, I see him daily. My children see him daily. Now, I have come to know him as a person. As a colleague, as a friend.
I have learned, for example, that he is giving. Of his time, his heart, his work, his intellect. He is steady, sure as the day, especially for my children. He is funny, gentle, kind-hearted, authentic, and patient.
He has loved to grow things since he was a child himself, and the Earth responds to his touch. He loves a good meal, and has learned to cook one himself (a sea change since he lived with us, when his burned lunches became a family joke). He is teaching me both skills--gardening and cooking. He loves the mountains, the forest, the rivers, the trees, the flowers, the sky. Those things, too, he is teaching me. I never really knew, until now, what a truly wonderful teacher he is.
I watch him with my children and I think of what a blessing it is what we have this opportunity. To know each other, to learn about each other, to teach each other. I hear him talk to Owen, watch him care for Barrett, and it is both a gentle memory and something new.
Happy Birthday, Dad. I am happy to have you in my life, in the lives of my children. They think the world of you, and so do I.