I. The Forecast
My father shared the news of my arrival with his parents in a bold, handwritten note inside my dainty, pink birth announcement:
“Well, she is finally here,” he wrote, “and she is HUGE. I guess she’s going to be a fatty.”
By the time I found this letter among my grandmother’s things, I’d lived decades with him and chuckled at his tendency to predict the future outcomes of his children. When I was a senior, I overheard my mother ask him what he was wearing to my high school graduation. His answer was that he was not going.
“Everyone in town will be sitting in those hot bleachers,” he told her, “She won’t notice whether I’m there or not.”
I smiled when I heard him say that because I knew his shyness made him uncomfortable in crowds of any size. Someone noticing him was what he was really afraid of.
My earliest memories of the man I called Dad are him holding my hand so I could walk on the beach, though it would have been easier to carry me. And lifting me up when we were out shopping, so I could see the same things he saw.
He read to us every night when we were kids, sometimes from his college textbooks. I loved the intimacy of his undivided attention and the hilarity of him making duck or pig sounds. I loved hearing him say “Once upon a time” instead of “I won’t ask you again to put that down”.
He taught me how to whistle, bait a hook and sit still enough to know when a fish was on my line. He built us stilts one summer when we were bored, taught me how to drive and everything I remember about geometry. (His prediction about that was right- I do use it in real life.)
After my graduation ceremony, amid throngs of people milling about the stadium, his was the first face I recognized. He was wearing pressed slacks and a sports coat and tears filled my eyes as I watched him make his way through the sea of gowns I was standing in.
‘I saw you!” he said when he reached me. “You looked beautiful and I’m so proud of you.” We hugged, as dozens of classmates brushed past us. When my mother and brothers arrived, he took my cap and diploma while I finished giving hugs. Then I left to be with my friends.
As I walked away, I could feel Dad watching me and I began to feel sad for leaving. I turned to wave, expecting the disappointment on his face. Instead it was a giant smile.
II. Everything that could go wrong
In the years I was a single mom, I searched for many things. A father figure for my children was not one. They had fathers and grandfathers and godfathers and uncles. They were loved by many and wanted for nothing. But when Mike and I started dating, it was obvious we weren’t a short-term thing. There was a familiarity between us from the beginning. Sooner or later he would have to meet my children. And I dreaded it– for him.
My kids were young, but they weren’t babies. They had big personalities, loud voices, extensive vocabularies and opinions on just about everything. The day I introduced them to him, they stood behind me and hid, One of them asked me why his hair was red and one of them asked him why there was so much hair on his face.
As they ran off to their room, I heard them call him a giant and it struck me that they might be babies after all.
The first time we were invited to his house, they asked if his fireplace was real and how many bathrooms he had. He got to know them through the hundred embarrassing questions they asked and he laughed at everything they said. It was the best start I could have hoped for.
He was brave and had a big heart, but there was no way he could have prepared for what it would be like marrying us. Our first Christmas together Michael asked Santa for the battery operated Kenner Star Wars AT-AT from “The Empire Strikes Back”. It came in more than 100 assembly-required pieces and Mike stayed up the entire night before Christmas putting it together. Both kids were awake before five a.m.
He did teacher conferences when I was out of town; took them both to the doctor when they found poison oak at daycare and was dumbfounded the first time our daughter forged his signature on a progress report.
He was a scout leader for years and worked concession duty when they were in band. In spite of his shyness and how unprepared he was to be a father, he showed up every day believing he had something to contribute to their lives.
I held my daughter’s hand and watched as our granddaughter was born. Beyond the curtain that separated us from the rest of the room, I could see Mike wearing the same look of uncertainty he had the first time he met her.
There was no guaranty that everything would be okay and with every scream there was a ‘What if..?’. And when the nurse took the baby to his side of the curtain, I saw him fall in love.
Six years later, I watched him teach her to ride a bike. Up and down the sidewalk he ran, holding her up and letting her go until she got the hang of pedaling.
On the last run, she soared away from him so fast I expected her to tip over. Mike stood there, bent over with his hands on his knees. He looked like he was out of breath. As he walked towards me I could see the hurt in his face.
“She’s not coming back this time,” he said. And I nodded my head because I felt it,too. Once again, his part was over and the days were coming when she wouldn’t need him at all.
At the end of the street, she turned her bike around and headed back with no help. As she came towards us, she pulled one hand away quickly and waved. Mike beamed. It was the same smile my dad wore when I waved goodbye to him at my graduation.
III. I told you so
When you become a father, you’re prepared every day. You never know what will happen next, you just know that it will.
A freakish storm came through Tuesday afternoon. Within minutes the entire house got dark and wind whistled through the windows and doors. I found Mike on the patio, just as a loud gust of wind swept the birdhouse and all four baby wrens were tossed from their nest.
While rain soaked the porch, he retrieved each baby and placed it in a safer place. One frightened fledgling attempted to fly. It landed in the gutter, just as the rain turned to hail. Mike ran to the other side of the house to see if the baby had been carried to the spout. As soon as he left, the wren parents returned and frantically worked to return their young to safety.
Being a father is more than creating life. It is protecting it, nurturing and sustaining it. Speak well of fathers today and thank them for seeing your future, even when you cannot.
Kay Young says
That’s beautiful, Karen!❤️