It is no secret that I thought my father was a wonderful person. He had integrity, which is sometimes hard when you’re walking that walk every day of your life. It’s so easy to slip, so much easier to just go with the crowd or give in to something you don’t want to, just because you’re tired and wonder if taking that stand really makes a difference. He did not compromise his principles for any reason. Not that he was sanctimonious about it, because you would never know he felt this way or did these things unless you asked him; even then, he was succinct in his response, usually “because it’s the right thing to do.”
He was charitable, which is something I didn’t realize until later in his life when I noticed thank-you notes coming to the house from places like a battered woman’s shelter, a food pantry, a hospice center. When asked about them, he would simply shrug and say “everybody can use some help sometime,” and change the subject.
He was morally outraged at any politician who lied. He could not understand how someone claiming to be a civil servant and a voice for the people would publicly manipulate perception for selfish profit and gain. He was particularly incensed during the Nixon administration, and did his best to educate me as to why corrupt politicians were the worst kinds of offenders to a trusting public looking for a government for the people. He hammered it into my head that elected officials do not grant power; they are granted power by an elective republic, and the ones who knew the difference were few and far between.
He loved my mother whole-heartedly. She knew, through his actions, that she could have anything she asked for and because of that she never asked for anything. Every Sunday morning he would make an egg and bacon and bagel brunch for her (and those of us who whined that they wanted some, too) and she responded as if he’d gifted her with lobster and champagne. Arguments happened as they do in all marriages, and there were some very quiet times when neither would speak to the other. In retrospect, I think it was because everything had been said and there was no need to argue any further, but a mandatory cooling-off period was needed. Soon, things would get back to normal and he would give her the comforting gentle pat on the backside and she would scratch his itchy back.
When my mother died far too young, I didn’t think my father would make it. She was his whole world: they lived together, slept together, commuted together, worked in the same company together, and generally moved through life together. I feared he would be joining her within the year, and felt guilty for living one state away. I took to calling him every Monday night, and listened to many one-syllable answers to my hesitant questions. How are you? Fine. Did you get through the day okay? Yes. Is there anything I can do? No. We had him out for Easter, and my 11-month old daughter gave him something to focus on. He took a lot of pictures that day and I was starting to breathe a bit more normal again. One Monday phone call a few weeks later he said I didn’t have to call him every Monday if I didn’t want to; he appreciated it, but I must not feel obligated as he was doing better. I answered that these phone calls were for my benefit, not his, and I would still be calling thank you very much. In that exchange, I was never more my father’s daughter. He knew it, I knew it, and our relationship got ever better.
My dad lived for another fifteen years after my mother died. He was living with us, and we were building a room onto our home for him. Sadly, he died during the construction, and I was inconsolable for quite some time. We decided to continue building the room, even though I didn’t have the heart for it, and our contractor told us my dad had confided he didn’t think he’d be around to enjoy it. This is the room I sit in whenever I write Tea and Sarcasm and where his ashes are, up on the top of a shelf commingled with my mom’s and with a plaque from his office that says “quiet please, genius at work” and a picture of him taken on a fishing trip we went on where he’s trying unsuccessfully to suppress a smile. It’s been eight years since he died. I wish he could see his granddaughters because he was so incredibly proud of them, even though he’d never say it. He was like that, often keeping his own counsel, but I know he would be busting his buttons at the smart young women they’ve become.
Everybody says a girl marries a man who reminds her of her father. My husband has a beard and mustache where my father spent his life clean-shaven. My husband is the opposite political party affiliation from my father. My husband does not get apoplectic over politics, he is a much quieter person, does not insist on things being a particular way, and he will never suffer from high blood pressure. But he has integrity, is charitable, and loves me whole-heartedly. He busts his buttons over his daughters, insists on making brunch every Sunday, and pats my backside.
I am a lucky woman.
This is exactly how my dad would respond to this question. Also, how do you feel? With my hands!