There is one man on Earth that can make me cry just by looking at me. I don’t know what it is or why it happens but it does.
I am talking about my Dad.
I want to make this very clear, I love my father with all of my heart. My Dad was and still is an amazing man. He is the type that will change tires for people in distress, rescue an animal from harm and volunteer to build parks for kids. Dad has always been tremendously hardworking and skilled in too many things to mention. He was an awesome provider who made sure we always had what we needed and more often than not, the nonsense we wanted as well. “Mr. Phil” as he is lovingly known, was involved in my life from the day I was born. After he did his bid as a parent, he became an amazing Grandfather to Chloe, then Sofia and Scarlett, each grandchild 4 years apart in age. He lovingly gave us all nicknames, I am “Bird” and my sister is “Nuda”. The kids are “Cooper, Bo-bo and… Bo-Bo TOO”, I guess he got lazy by the time the little one came around, besides every family needs 2 Bo-Bo’s. I was never scared of him as a disciplinarian, I can honestly say he never once raised his hands to me or my sister, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times he yelled at us. Trust me, it wasn’t because we were the perfect children, it was just the way he was.
So, what are my “Daddy Issues” about? As far as Father/Daughter relationships go, by all means, we should be good, RIGHT?
Full transparency, I am crying right now as I type.
Why so emotional? Well, as of today my father is retired. As of a week from today, he will be settling into his new life, hundreds of miles away.
Here’s a true story, when I was 15 years old I came home from school and my Dad was sitting at the table. I had never seen him home before 6 pm, so I knew something was wrong. I ask, “Are you sick?” his reply, “Nope. I just quit my job.” I am a teenager who didn’t know much about life, but I can tell you this much… I knew that I had a whole “lifestyle” that he financed so this news shook me to the core. The thought of him being unemployed meant, no weekly allowance, I’d never get the “DKNY” Tennis Sneakers I asked for and forget the money I spent on weekends for things I would much rather not mention. It was devastating! Did I want to know what happened? I wanted him to tell me what we were going to do to “survive”. Life as I knew it was OVER. In the 30 seconds between him saying he quit his job and me screaming crying, he said “it’s gonna be fine”, I didn’t believe him so I asked him, “HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?” At 15, everything was about ME, so selfish.
Looking back as an adult who has had a job for 16 years with a company I love, I cannot imagine how much courage it took to walk away from the only real job he ever had. I realize now that he was working 6 days a week, more than 10-hour days. His commute was miserable, the people were difficult. I never took any of that into consideration, I could only focus on ME.
He had worked for 17 years with one company. By that point, my mother was no longer a stay-at-home mom, so there were two incomes. We went from doing layaway at K-Mart to shopping at Nordstrom and Macy’s for school clothes. It was a big deal for me. Sure, I sound so obnoxious, but I am being honest. I didn’t want to go back to the days where we just survived, I loved being able to LIVE. I was a selfish child who didn’t even realize that to live, my father was making the ultimate sacrifice. He was unhappy, unhealthy, exhausted and emotionally drained. Dad was never around to do the things I see so many dads doing these days, like going on field trips or sitting to help with homework. By the time he got home from those long draining days, we had family dinner and it was bedtime. When I think back on my childhood, dinner’s on weeknights, every Sunday and one week a year when we would vacation was the most time we spent together. Now, Dad was home.
It didn’t take long for him to find a job. He started working overnights at a very big hardware store close enough to the house that he could walk when the weather was nice. It was an entry-level position 40 hours a week. I am sure there was a period of financial adjustment in our family but, as kids didn’t feel the weight of it. Everything stayed the same, despite all my anxiety. He worked hard and took the job seriously. He made friends and moved up in the company, but most of all he was happier than I had ever seen him. Now that my mother was working full time and focusing on her career, he was left with a lot more responsibility at home. Never the disciplinarian, we got away with so much when dad was on watch.
It was amazing to watch, he went from stocking shelves in the middle of the night to team leader, then management. Eventually, he became Upper Management, worked bank hours, had amazing perks and more vacation time than he could even imagine using. Before I knew it, his 10 years became 20. Then his 20 became 25 years. Throughout, he mentored generations of new employees, became a leader in his position and won countless awards, trips and more than anything he did it with so much joy and pride. This job change taught us all a valuable lesson about knowing your worth.
Now, 25+ years later he is retiring from that “entry-level” job, right on his schedule. More importantly, he is happy – which makes me happy.
The timing of this blog may seem off but, but I decided with all the free time he will have, maybe he can read this at his leisure and I can get some things off my chest. I know I am a better “writer” than I am a “speaker” so why not let the world know exactly how I feel about the 40 years of life with him as a father.
A few months ago, I was waking up from a very serious spinal surgery. When I opened my eyes, my mother was at my side. I have always been a “Momma’s Girl” and seeing her there with a smile assured me everything went well. She stood there for a few minutes, holding my hand. Suddenly, she said she was going to step out for a minute because someone else wanted to come in and see me. I assumed it was my sister or husband, I was wrong. It was my father. I began to cry. I grabbed my mom’s hand even tighter but she successfully wiggled it loose and walked away. My Dad comes in and I force a very nervous smile. Nobody likes hospitals, but my father is one of those people who would rather peel the wallpaper off every wall in an entire house than actually walk through the doors of a hospital. He talks for a minute or two about what the doctor told him and I repeatedly cut him off to say he can leave. In my heart, I feel like I am burdening him. Let me point out that my mother, who picked me up at 5 am has now been in the hospital for almost 12 hours straight and I haven’t given her the same courtesy of letting her leave. In my head, we are moms, this is what we do. However, Dad has better places to be, right? Finally, he relents and leaves. As soon as he walks away, I begin to cry – again.
Do I want him there or not?
Like so many of us, I like to imagine what my Dad sees when he looks at me. I have only one child, so I don’t know if there is such a thing as a “favorite” child or not. I assume there is and I have determined that – I am not his favorite. I always imagine that when I am standing next to my sister, she wins. Tracey is a well dressed, successful woman, world traveler, well-spoken, academically accomplished and an overall easygoing person. I am a bit of the opposite. Although I am successful in my own career, it’s not a fancy job with perks and travel, I sit behind a computer and crunch numbers all day. My ill-fitting men’s sweats and hoodies look slummy next to her neatly tailored all-black work clothes. I have a thick “Hudson County” accent and I am ashamed of how many “fucks” I manage to drop in every sentence. I never took school seriously and when I decided I wanted to further my education, it was just a few online courses, a far cry from her Dean’s List award ceremonies in college. I can also be difficult in just about any situation. From my partying days, getting pregnant at a young age, being a social justice warrior, dietary restrictions and opposing political beliefs, I just feel like I am his problem child.
“You like Tracey more than me” is the bain of his existence I’m sure.
I once told my friends that I felt like I wasn’t enough in my father’s eyes. They politely sat there as I went on and on about the subject. When I finally stopped to take a breath, one of the girls looked at me and laughed, “I have never met my father nor will I since he passed away before I found out who he was” and then she pointed to Nina and said “and her…”, I was already embarrassed, “she met her father (who was a bouncer) at the door of a nightclub when he recognized her name on her ID”. With the look of pure annoyance she grunted, “honestly, you’re not gonna get sympathy here”.
These are girls who know my father. Not only could they never imagine a world where I could find a flaw in Mr. Phil but they couldn’t imagine me complaining to them, of all people about my father who was always there for me.
Maybe I am disillusioned from watching my husband and daughter so closely over the years. Their relationship was a reference point for me. Every time they embraced, I felt like I missed out on that. My husband dotes on our kid, he has her first soccer jersey on display from when she was 4, they still hold hands when we go out as I follow from behind. It is sweet. Over the years they have traveled together for weeks at a time. They had a standing dinner date for years, just the two of them. As she got older, they’d have deep conversations and share funny and embarrassing stories with one another. To this day she will still curl up in his arms when she needs some love.
So, my dad is not big on hugs or kisses and I guess that was what I used to measure his love a lot of times. We once took a vacation together, just the two of us, out West. The only part of the trip we ever talk about was how I brought him to the top of a ski slope in Lake Tahoe, a DIAMOND LEVEL SLOPE. I knew he had never skied before that day. He wasn’t happy with me, to say the least. BUT DID HE DIE? I think I can say this with 100% certainty, I have never held his hand and the most embarrassing thing wasn’t shared with him willingly.
I am sure he is reading this right now cringing and thinking “No, Dee-Dee, DO NOT put it in writing”. Fuck it, he’s retired now and can have flashbacks of this trauma while he sunbathes in Florida. I was just about 20 years old at the time, and he came into my room to ask me something. He caught me just as I was making my bed. Without thinking, I throw the comforter off the bed. There, from the night before, laid a gently used “toy” that I picked up at a “Pleasure Party” just a few weeks earlier. I. Literally. Die. As. I. Type.
I thought the look of horror on his face coming down that ski slope was bad, like if I don’t die on this slope – I will kill you when I get to the bottom. Well, you should have seen his face at that moment. So, it is safe to say there weren’t any “standing dinner dates” and dinner that particular night was uncomfortable. Nobody knew why, but we knew. We knew.
My father is so awesome though, he is my friend and I truly do take for granted the ways he DOES show his love. First and foremost, the way he treats Chloe, his first grandchild. That girl will always be his “Cooper”, she can do no wrong. I can call him anytime and talk to him for hours about nothing at all, and he will listen. He is generous and constantly over gifting money. Sure, it is nice, but it is so unnecessary. My father can make me laugh harder than anyone. He has these little quirks and sayings that irritate you just enough to make them funny. He loves to have a good time. Takes NOTHING seriously and reminds me EACH AND EVERY DAY that “I am in my PRIME”. I know that he trusts me and I trust him. He is a man’s man, just him and his beloved Dog Champy living their best life which is great, because when my parents are smiling – it makes life a whole lot easier to enjoy. More than anything, he has never let me down if I ever asked him for anything urgent.
So all this baggage, it’s not him, it’s me.
I am constantly trying to analyze “us” and that is what makes things awkward. I am learning to let things happen organically, live in the moment with him like I do with most people. Accept that despite our differences, I am his baby, his Dee-Dee Bird. There is nobody that can take my place.
Over the summer, he joined me on the hammock as the sun was setting on Lindy’s Lake. I didn’t ask him to come to lay with me, he just did and that was the closest I have been to him in decades. I was 40, but I could’ve been 4 right at this moment. I felt so safe and loved.
As time goes by, that little girl inside of me realizes I have always been enough. I can see that through all of my ups and downs, mistakes and accomplishments – he has been there and I may not have even realized it because I was too worried to even acknowledge it.
I am so thrilled for him and his retirement. Knowing my father is about to embark on a journey in life that is uncharted territory for him, doing something he has always wanted to do, has me nervously excited. He has a home, on wheels, so he can go wherever his heart leads, with his trusty old sidekick Champion to watch over him. Hundreds of miles from his friends and family, but just like the day he picked up and left his job, this too will all work out. If I know one thing about my father it is that he is resilient, positive and follows his heart.
So, Congratulations Dad may today be the first day of the rest of your life and the BEST of your life. I look forward to seeing what you have in store for the world!
And just as a reminder to everyone who is reading this…
HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE.