It ain’t easy being a dad.
Even more so in our family, where he’s outnumbered 3:1 and only has a mama’s-boy Labrador as fellow guy in the house. Oh we yell at him (while we giggle) at his bathroom humor, tell him to turn down his absurdly loud (often rockabilly) music he blares through the neighborhood, and groan when he puts on yet another overhauling car show. We raise an eyebrow at his orange shorts and mauve shirt outfits, roll our eyes during his dinner table dirty jokes, and nod and smile when he’s telling us the government is watching our every move through Facebook (sorry Dad, looks like you were right this time).
Yet that never stops him from taking care of us every single day of our lives.
Dad’s job is all consuming. As a self-employed owner-operator who leases himself to an international moving company, so much of his job is entirely out of his control. Is the housing economy in an up or downturn? Are corporations hiring or firing? Where are people moving? And most importantly, who is dispatch going to give the load to? It means an unbelievable amount of pressure and constant stress from being paid per job instead of a constant salary. It also means when things are booming, he’s always on the road. From June through September, Dad is maybe home one day of the week if he’s lucky. It’s non-stop travel, constantly away from his family, and always focused on bringing home the proverbial bacon.
We can’t even imagine that kind of stress. We get pissed when we have to work overtime, not to mention getting up at 4:30 AM every day six or seven days a week, doing back-breaking labor, and then driving hundreds of miles to do it all over again. With a smile on your face the whole time.
Sure he’s not the only dad who travels for a living, or has spent long stretches away from his family. Until Katie was around seven or eight, he used to do cross-country trips and be gone for a few weeks at a time, leaving she and Mom by themselves. With the difficulty and expense of communicating long distance (pre-cell phones) and the stress of supporting a young family it would’ve been all too easy for him to put his head down and focus on his job. And who could have blamed him? Hell most of our friends who have 9-5 dads barely saw or have much of a relationship with their fathers.
But here’s the remarkable thing about Dad. He never let that happen for even an instant. Even when he was gone for a few weeks at a time, Katie spoke to him nearly every night for as long as I wanted. He’d call home, talk to Mom and then ask to speak to Katie. He’d tell her to close her eyes and describe where they were and what they were doing.
“We’re floating in the ocean!”
“I bet we’re singing, aren’t we?”
“YEAH, but the dogs are swimming out to meet us- and there are dolphins, and big waves!”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got you, we’ll just float right over the top of them.”
They’d craft elaborate scenarios and forget that they weren’t face to face every day, or that she cried every time he left on a trip. After Hope was born, he stopped going cross-country, deciding that he couldn’t be away from his girls for that long ever again. Coming home from a trip he’d be bone tired, and he’d carry his bags into his office, and all his girls and the dogs would swarm him; everyone yammering, barking, and filling him in on what he missed, and no matter how tired, you could see his shoulders slump in relaxation to have his family around him. As the technology has evolved, he’s never more than a phone or text away, and he never fails to answer- even if he’s up on a ladder with a box above his head- if his girls call, he picks up.
More importantly, if his girls needed something, or let’s be honest, wanted something really badly, he never failed to provide it. As a matter of fact we were spoiled absolutely rotten.
Despite living in one of the best public school districts in the nation, it was a terrible fit for both of us. By the end of first grade Katie got in trouble for punching a boy in the face after he repeatedly grabbed her, er, “private places.” She didn’t see what the problem was- the boy did something wrong and she handled it, and stood up for herself. But after a meeting with the principal ended in the woman calling Dad an “academic elitist” for saying he could send her across the street to the local Catholic school where she wouldn’t be groped, he yelled back, “Lady, I’m a fucking truck driver” and stormed out.
So from that day forward, we both received a phenomenal private school education through high school, and when it came time time for college, he paid for that too. Our sport of choice was horseback riding and despite his better judgement, we got ponies, and Katie competed throughout her childhood. Nice clothes? Good food? Beach vacations? Check, check, and check. If it was in his power to give it to us, he did. Always.
We’ve seen it happen every day, children are given the world, either in an attempt to buy their love or buy them off for distant parenting. It could have been so easy for us to take for granted everything that we’ve been given. Except for the knowledge that everything, from our education to the house over our heads, was earned by his own back. And every day we can see what it costs him. A bad knee, a weary back, tendonitis, cataracts from the sunglare, unbelievable arthritis, and a bone deep exhaustion makes it impossible to not be thankful every single day for what he has done for us.
But the key thing is that even with the distance, our relationship was never dependent on what he could buy for us. Some of the most important gifts we received from our father could never have a monetary value: be it our ability to curse like sailors, or stand up for ourselves. For Hope, the most important thing Dad ever gave her was a deep and lasting love of music. A lifelong musician, our father can sit down at a piano and play beautifully- hand him a guitar and he can play any song. And though age and arthritis has slowed his ability to play instruments, his deep voice remains as soothing and soulful as ever.
Hope likes to think she got her innate musical talent from him: but even genes alone wouldn’t have fostered the support and appreciation for her music that he did. Whether it be buying a first guitar or listening to her play the same song over and over, he was always there with a smile, eager to give support and advice (even if some of the advice wasn’t wanted).
We hope he knows that we don’t take for granted the opportunities he’s given us for even a moment. But even more so, we hope he knows that none of those things matter anywhere as much as his unwavering dedication to making sure that his girls know that we’re loved.
It can’t have been easy being a father to headstrong and opinionated girls, especially when more often than not you’re interacting over a phone. You can’t always make horse shows or choir concerts, eighth grade graduations, or every single birthday. But none of those things matter when your children know to their very core, that you love them, support them, and not a day goes by that you’re not there for them. That even while we’re sometimes groaning, we are always cherishing those night sitting on the porch with him imparting a lifelong love of music (and gaining a hatred of Neil Young); standing in front of yet another grill filled with BBQ chicken, or even him telling terrible jokes he only somewhat remembers. Hell, we don’t even really mind sitting around listening to him scream at the TV during football season.
Growing up, Dad always said that his father taught him how not to be a father to daughters.
If we’re ever fortunate enough to be parents one day, we’ll be telling our sons or daughters that if they want to know how to be a good parent… a good man… a good person…they need look no farther than him.
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