This radio essay is from 1995–six and a half years before my dad died. I saw him many more times after this, including a memorable visit a few weeks before his death, when he was still perfectly healthy. I am blessed to remember our time together with such potency.
A friend of mine says the other day that those Father’s Day cards make her sick–the ones about Dad always being there for you. And sure enough, the first one I look at says just that. I don’t buy that one, but not because it isn’t true. My dad is always there for me. Dads like mine are called “Daddy” by their grown daughters, and this frequently makes people roll their eyes.
When my dad told me he’d come to see me soon, he told me to make a list of all the little things I wanted. Instead of making a list of 200 or so little things, I made a list that says only: one cord of oak. This will disappoint my dad, who hopes silk and silver are on a long list written on pink linen paper. I did get my dad a Father’s Day card, the one that says: When I was fourteen you were stupid, Dad, but you’re smart now. I got about the last one of those, so you probably got one too. All dads, but especially dads called “Daddy”, love to be told that they are unequivocally right.
The card is perfect for my dad. I couldn’t say more than “pass the salt” to the man from puberty to adulthood. In those days it bound my feet to even make eye contact with him. When I was nineteen I wrote him a letter, asked him to visit me in San Francisco. He slept on my couch. We walked on the beach just as we did when I was four and we lived in Ventura, then a sleepy beach town. In those days we’d walk for miles sucking on jawbreakers and talking about–well–just about everything. Now he says, “I spent more time with you than with all my others combined.” Maybe that’s why I’m the only one of his kids who calls him “Daddy”.
Next month he’ll come to visit, grimace that I have no television, garbage disposal, dishwasher, or dryer. He’ll try so hard not to comment on my son’s long hair, or the hair on my legs and under my arms. He won’t be able to resist asking about men, why I don’t want to live with the man I love, why I like waking up alone. He’ll tell me that he just doesn’t understand me. He’ll ask me what I want besides a cord of oak. We’ll walk on a path in the pines just as we once walked on the beach. And of course I’ll call him Daddy, when no one is listening.