Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

There are fathers and then there are fathers.  You see them everywhere.  Pushing strollers.  Attending prenatal classes with their partners or wives.  Picking up diapers or formula.  You see them now....but that hasn't always been the case.  The generation that we see partnering as a co-parent is more for the current generation than the ones before.  It is expected.  It probably came in with the expectation that the men should have no problem picking up our feminine products while they were at the grocery store.  But it hasn't always been that way.  Nor is it always the norm now.When my father was told he was going to be a father, he was a young, single Marine.  I am told he was thrilled and immediately asked my mom to marry him.  He would become career Marine.  Doing 3 tours of duty in Vietnam and leaving my mother and my brothers and I stateside while he performed the duties for which he was trained.  But in the beginning....he took on the responsibility that was me.  An unexpected pregnancy that he could have run from or asked my mother to terminate.  While Roe vs Wade hadn't yet impacted the world, my mother could have easily done away with my existence. But both embraced the fact that I was gowing inside her and prepared for their life together. 
Within days of my birth, my mother contracted a breast infection that required her to be hospitalized.  My dad took her to the hospital to be treated.  I am told that when they decided to keep her, her thought he would leave me there with her.  After all, she was the mom.  But they sent me home with my dad.  Not only was he a new dad, but was unprepared for the two or four hour feedings I would demand.  He had to actually ask off from work for a day or two until he could find a sitter.  He rose to the occasion knowing there was no other recourse...with no family to help and new to the area, he pulled up his bootstraps and did what needed to be done.
As a Marine, my father was gone alot.  Sometimes for short stints in the field and school.  Other times it was for serve in a foreign country in a war that was so unpopular that even the nuns I was entrusted to at parochial school saw fit to inform me and my mother that any sickness I got was a direct result of my father's participation in Vietnam.  One of my strongest memories from this time period was of one of my father returning home. 
I had fallen from a very tall slide at my elementary school.  I had attempted to show off my remarkable climbing skills by climbing up one of the supporting poles of the slide instead of the ladder that was provided.  Just before I reached the top, I found myself falling to the ground.  I knocked the wind out of myself and had a hard time feeling my legs.  My hands were numb and tingly and I was scared.  They rushed me to the local hospital.  I was young and don't remember much.  I was admitted and they ran tests and did x-rays to find out why I couldn't feel my lower extremities.  In the end,after my body got over the shock of the fall, I was able to move my feet, my legs, and anything else they asked me to...but not in the presence of the nurses.  They were puzzled and looking back so am I.  I don't know why I didn't cooperate.  All I know is that I was 10 or 11 years old and laying in the hospital.  Nurses took care of me, my mom came and visited and I stared at the ceiling. One morning the nuses came in and bathed me.  They took special care to brush my hair and put on pretty pajamas.  At one point, I became curious and asked what was going on.  They explained with big smiles that I had a special visitor coming.  They all looked at each other with knowing smiles and continued to busy themselves with getting me ready.  Then they left.  My memory is hazy, but what I remember is hearing footsteps coming down the hall.  Familiar footsteps that bore the memory of 13 months of waiting.  Without bothering to consider that my next actions would reveal my false paralysis, I flung back the hospital covers and jumped out of the bed.  I could hear the heels of his shoes tapping against the floor making their steady progression toward my room.  I rounded the corner of my hospital room and there he dad.  He was in uniform. I ran as fast as my "paralyzed" legs could carry me.  He had a big smile on his face and he just walked towards me.  Smiling.  Real. Alive.  I ran and jumped onto him.  Arms around his neck and legs around his waist.  He was tan and his uniform was starchy and scratchy against my cheek.  As far as I know, I had already been discharged because he turned and carried me out of the hospital still holding onto him. 
A long time has passed since that day.  Years of arguments and agreements.  Smiles and walks down the aisle.  He loved me and raised me the best he knew how.  He made mistakes but also succeeded in teaching me things I can never forget.  I have terms in my head that will never go away.  Jokes that are no longer politically correct and cannot be shared with just anyone, but are there in my head, none the less.  I learned how to appreciate golf. I learned how to drive a car.  I learned how to talk to strangers and how to make them feel comfortable. 
Today is father's day.  It is a day to honor fathers.  Like I said in the beginning....there are fathers and then there are fathers.  My dad is from another generation.  A generation of stepping up to the plate and getting things done.  Of tough love and giving enough to help, but not enough to keep me from doing it on my own.  I am glad to still have a father I can call and wish a happy father's day.  I am glad for my dad.  So happy father's day dad.....I hope we have many more.

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