For Sir at 74. Simply the best.
When I was a teenager and first allowed to “date,” that meant a boy could enter the first floor of our home and sit on the couch in the family room. My father would sit on the couch in the adjacent living room, keeping us in his direct line of sight. If my “date” and I moved to another part of the family room, my dad would correspondingly move to another part of the living room. It was like a bad chess match.
In high school I had a steady boyfriend who lived a few blocks away. One Sunday, I told my parents I was going to church and drove over to his house instead, leaving the car parked in plain sight in his driveway. My dad, an avid runner, jogged by the house, unbeknownst to me. When I got home, he asked me how church was. “Great!” I said. “Who said the Mass?” “Father David.” “How was the homily?” “Great!” “What was the gospel reading?” “Something from Paul, I think.” And on and on, while my brother and sister sat on the stairs cringing with their hands over their mouths and thinking, “Shut up, shut up, shut up!”
In my 20’s I often described my adolescence as “embattled.” I honestly don’t know if it was worse for me or my father.
Everything I know about work, I learned from my dad. I remember his graduation from law school, something he did at night while working at an insurance company during the day. My father’s work ethic (he’s a Super Lawyer, and yes, that’s a real thing) was one of the main things that helped me finish my own dissertation. My work life started with a paper route, which I hated because it required physical activity and waking up early, two things I prefer to avoid. I worked at the public library, the town deli, the local newspaper, a garden center, several restaurants, in many, many offices as a temp, and for several summers, in my dad’s law office, typing letters from a tiny Dictaphone that played his voice in my ear for hours a day. His secretary was 87, had purple hair, chain-smoked, and never treated me like the boss’s daughter. I loved it.
On my way to his office in Union, NJ one morning, my 1973 yellow VW Beetle was rear-ended on an off ramp on the Garden State Parkway. My dad happened to be about a mile behind me, and stopped to help me deal with the other driver, the police and the tow truck. Then he gave me a ride to work. And that’s pretty much how it’s been my whole life: him being there, watching, guiding, helping, and giving me a ride when I’ve been stuck on the side of the road.
At the end of my sophomore year at Villanova, my dad came down to get me. He must have followed my roommate Caryl and me back to New Jersey because she was driving an old VW Rabbit and he was probably afraid we wouldn’t make it the whole way. He paid for each of our tolls on the PA Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway. She told me later, “I remember thinking that I wanted to marry someone just like that.”
In the last three years, I’ve been both literally and figuratively run over, plowed into, broken down in traffic, and stuck on the side of the road on a regular basis. Every traumatic, depressing, ridiculous, stupid, hard thing that will have happened in my life so far seems to have happened consecutively in the past three years. Much of it has been my fault. Mile after mile, my dad has been there, reminding me over and over that there is always an end in sight, that legal obstacles can be overcome, family heartbreak endured, basements unflooded, houses sold, depression lifted, persistence rewarded, prayers answered, and that I can, in fact, keep going. And he’s given me more than my fair share of rides.
Recently, I thanked my dad for something he’d done for me and he said, “That’s what friends are for.” My siblings and I were given more than most–family vacations, college educations, weddings, magical Christmases–but we also knew that we worked for what we wanted, and that when we turned 18, my dad was done. We didn’t grow up like little princesses or princes, and I have never once had the feeling that “Mommy and Daddy” would take care of me if something went wrong. That has made my father’s stalwart presence during these past few years of turmoil so unutterably valuable. I don’t even want to imagine where I’d be without him.
My most precious possession is the Roget’s Thesaurus that belonged to my father when he was in college. It’s dusty and some of the pages are falling out. Perhaps someday it will help me find the words to convey all that he means to me.
In lieu of a poem (because he doesn’t read those anyway), here are two of my favorite songs about friendship: Pete Townshend’s “A Friend is a Friend,” and the Beatles, “With a Little Help From My Friends.” In Pete’s famous words, “A friend is a friend, nothing can change that/Arguments, squabbles can’t break the contract/That each of you makes to the death, to the end/Deliver your future into the hands of your friend.”
Happy Birthday, Sir. I hope it’s a good one. You sure deserve it!