It’s Father’s Day, so I took down the Daddy Book this morning.
When I was little, my Dad worked long hours, and he didn’t get to see a whole lot of us. I know now that my mother was depressed, that it was hard for her to be alone in a small apartment with a little kid, that he was chronically exhausted, that it was a rough few years. I don’t really remember any of that. I was too little.
But I do remember waking up in the mornings and running to the kitchen table to see what was there. That was how mornings started. Milk and juice and toast and the Daddy note.
They’re all in a scrapbook now, pages and pages and pages. Some are scrawled haphazardly, some are gorgeously rendered in detail — Big Bird and Danny the Dinosaur and Peter Pan and Nate the Great, cartoons from whatever books I was reading or Disney movies I was allowed to borrow from the library.
I can imagine it now, from his perspective — what it must have been like for my Dad to wake up so early, day after day. To get dressed and sneak to the kitchen, the whole house asleep. To spend a few minutes composing those notes, drawing and doodling in the quiet breath of the morning, hoping that a cartoon Minnie Mouse or Donald Duck was enough to say I love you and mean it.
So many people have stories about their parents never telling them that they loved them. I have an entire scrapbook. Tangible, hard physical evidence that my Dad loves me. I’m lucky. I’m so, so lucky.
During the divorce, a lot of stuff went missing, and I thought for years that the Daddy Book was gone. Maybe it was too hard for my mom to see it. I can see now how many of those notes are actually for her — some addressed to just “his girls,” some that are just to her, some that reference events that I can’t remember but she surely would. I could see it being too painful for her to have around, but I’m so glad that it was discovered, and mine now. The Daddy Book lives on the top shelf of my closet. If the house caught fire, I’d run there first.
I cleaned my house yesterday. The kind of deep cleaning when there’s too much on your mind. The kind of cleaning you do with dust rags and Windex when you’re thinking about Charleston and you’re thinking about your teaching job and you’re thinking about how badly your book is going and you’re thinking about how maybe you’re fucking everything up and you’re thinking about how you’re letting some people down and you’re thinking about how there’s too much to think about.
And because I was cleaning, I found myself digging through piles of papers that had been shoved into drawers. So many scraps of paper, so many notes — all in my dad’s handwriting, tucked into envelopes and mailed to me over the years, things like “Took these pictures and I thought you might want to see” or “This article made me think of you.”
Or, “I know you’re going through a rough time and it’s going to be okay.”
My dad’s not perfect. My dad can be stubborn. My dad can be obstinate. My dad can be sensitive. My dad can be critical.
I am describing my dad, but I am also describing myself.
My dad can also be charming. He can be funny. He can be wholehearted. He can be generous. He can be empathetic. He can be encouraging. He can be supportive. He can be loving. He can be considerate. He can be kind. He can be open.
He is that and so much more. So am I.
I am me because of him.
I’m writing this post before I call my dad today, because I’m better with words on pages than I am with words on telephones. (Come to think of it, so is he). I’m writing this post because my Daddy Book isn’t just a time capsule from my childhood; it’s entire chapters that are still being written. I’m writing this because I am aware that not everyone is lucky enough to be able to call their dads today. I’m writing this because for the first time this year, my dad can’t call up his dad today, and today will be a tough day for him. I’m writing this because I love him.
I’m writing this before I call him up to tell him that he is my dad — and he is wonderful.