I’m in love with my dad.
Do I love him? Yes. But I’m talking about being in love. I like him. I like being around him. He’s funny. He makes me laugh. He’s special.
You see I didn’t grow up throwing the ball with him in the backyard. We never sat by the fireplace and had older man, younger man talks. No, my dad worked all the time, all the time. He left home for his pipe shop job around 4:30 am, returned around 3 pm and would leave again around 4:00 pm for his nighttime janitorial job. On the weekends he did plumbing with a family friend, Goat.
Yet, as much as he worked, we all knew he was there for us, a reasoning safe presence. For me, his oldest and only son, he foresaw a changing world. A world he was willing to send his son into but would not live in himself. He accepted his supporting role in life but wanted a starring role for his son. So he worked. He worked to make the funds necessary to send me, and my two sisters, to private school, buy us a house, allow us to live comfortable lives. When things got tight, we, the children, would be made aware of it because we were a team and everyone pitched in to make things work.
What I remember most and what I enjoy most now is listening to him talk. Born in 1925, in Elmore County Alabama, he’s seen a world I could not have survived. Almost being accosted by white strangers because they thought my light-skinned mother was a white woman. Having to step off the sidewalk when a white couple approached. Working all day, sun up to sun down behind a mule for 50 cents. Building his own bicycle from spare parts and riding with his brother into downtown Wetumpka, Alabama to go to the movies, and of course, sit in the black section of the theatre. Going to the army at 18. Afterward, moving to Birmingham to join his sisters and brothers as they transitioned from rural country life to city life, marriage and a family.
His wife, my mother, had been raised Catholic and had gone to Catholic schools. She set the standards. He converted to Catholicism. He worked so we could go to Catholic schools. When I became a popular athlete at the school where I integrated the sports teams, what he didn’t understand he didn’t stand in the way of. He never limited me. When I pushed back against his more restrained ways he supported me.
There are times, while visiting him that we will take a drive to visit with his friend, Kit. They worked together at Acipco Pipe. Kit’s ten years younger than my dad and babysits a tire service he runs with his wife. There are few customers so he and my dad can have an hour or two to just talk.
They both survived 35 years in the plant. Made it out. Retired and have lived long enough to enjoy it. They witnessed their place of work go from their supervisor referring to them as “These are my Ni_ _ ers,” to a measure of respect for who they were as men. They laugh a lot at the supervisor who they told jokes to in order to get him laughing and telling jokes. While he entertained them they got to rest.
Our adult worlds have been different; his blue collar, mine entrepreneurial. Sometimes that has been frustrating. When I vent about a client issue, he comes back with “running the ball, but you got to be blocking and you need a tall receiver who can snatch that ball, then you can score the ball.”
Traveling in parallel universes is sometimes frustrating. “What are you talking about?” I wanted to say. But I studied him. Now 93 and hard of hearing, he still is the master of his shrinking domain, holding on to whatever control he can.
I thought about what he’d said. The light went on. It was a strategy. A strategy I could utilize. I would utilize. I had to get back on offense. Score some points. I would.
This trip I spent three days with him. My sisters, his angels, are his full time caregivers. I come in once a month to substitute and give them a tiny break. Daddy and I talk, watch television, go on rides through familiar territory, and eventually nod out on the couch in the evening.
The hardest part is leaving. We always make good eye contact, our eyes express the thankfulness of being in each other’s lives and the loving words he cannot verbalize but doesn’t have to. I know.
He always says, “I hope I see you again.” I always give him a big hug and say, “You will.”
I’m in love with my dad.