In order to start writing my Father’s Day Message to Dad, I had to log on to my computer, enter a password, and close out the already open documents and applications. In addition to closing out my Facebook account while watching our cat explore the closet and hoping she wouldn’t wander from my air conditioned den into the bedroom where my fiance is sleeping, I closed a text document titled “To Do Fix Life.”
This is a list of things that are the ramifications of my bailing out of my last job without a clear plan in place—unplanned medical expenses, credit cards now in the hands of debt collectors, student loans, and taxes not filed on time.* Like the proverbial cat, I did manage, eventually, to land on my feet and get another job despite putting very little effort into doing so, and a lot of effort into “anti-commercial, anti-art, anti-social performance art.” I’m blessed with a nice office with a view of the Hollywood sign, and regular paychecks that cover my car payments and leasing a three-bedroom home with an outdoor private patio for painting and an amazing view of the San Gabriel Mountains. Yeah, there’s still that “To Do Fix Life” list, a screenplay I wrote during my hiatus from corporate America, and the chasm between the dreams I moved to Los Angeles to pursue and my waking “so-called” reality, which involves a lot of time investing in doing and achieving things I never consciously set out to achieve. However, I know it is possible to close the gap very quickly, with the power of transformation (remind me to tell you the story about Chinese bamboo). And overall, compared to where I was at a year ago, when I tried moving this website over from one domain host to another and lost all my files (thanks Yahoo!), I have been blessed. I have found a modicum of faith. And chief among my blessings, my mother and father are alive, possessing sound minds and sound health, and receiving enough income to maintain a comfortable life.
I interrupted my father with a phone call in the middle of something he was doing with bookshelves and a compression gun in his woodshop yesterday. When my father gets in his mind to start a task, very little can take his attention away, and he was polite but was on the phone for all of two minutes before he was ready to hang up and get back to work. I understand because I’m the same way. I like to read books start to finish. If I decide I’m going to climb a mountain I don’t want to stop and rest until I get to the top. But there’s one sure diversion my father cannot resist: the opportunity to tell a good story. So, since I hadn’t spoken to him in at least a week and didn’t want him to hang up, I asked him about the veracity of some advice I’d received for handling rattlesnakes on the trails. This provided an opportunity he could not resist to delve into the time he came face-to-face with a copperhead snake, and I was blessed with twice as much phone time with Dad.
The story was pretty simple. He was in the desert climbing rocks probably before this was a fashionable thing to do but that’s only a speculative embellishment, and as he grabbed both hands around a rock to pull himself up, came face-to-face with a copperhead. Well, he let go of the rock “right pretty darn quicklike” and sped away from the copperhead at the fastest speed possible, which involves the equation for mass of a falling body near the gravitational pull of the earth. These sorts of equations my father quotes regularly whether discussing carpentry or a near-death experience, and, viewed through a haze of what could very well be estrogen impairment, are recorded in my mind like Charlie Brown’s teacher “blah blah, blah blah blah blah…”
However it doesn’t matter what my dad is talking about when he talks to me. He could be speaking from the Koran in Arabic for all I care or reading a one thousand page manual on how to watch paint dry that repeated a three word sentence over and over. When Dad talks, I fall into a trance. Just the sound of his voice reassures me that everything is ok.
Father’s Day is a rough day for some people. People who never had dads, people who are feuding with their dads, or people who have lost their fathers. On my Facebook page, I’m sure I have all of these. Last night I met with a friend from All Saints who had been born with Spina Bifida and placed in an orphanage because at that time, sixty years ago, poor African-American parents were encouraged not to keep children who were too expensive to care for. I have another friend who is currently angry at his father, because he came into a little money and his dad sent an email suggesting now he could repay him for a loan that was so old my friend had forgotten about it. But my friend hadn’t forgotten the abuse he suffered at his father’s hands, and the request for money brought up all those old feelings about his father owing him restitution of some kind, and all the old bitterness of being thrown out of the house and forced to fend for himself at seventeen.
Just a few weeks ago, we had a scare that reminded me what Father’s Day must feel like for those who have lost their fathers. Dad was taking a painkiller that caused side effects which sent him into the ER. The first message I received was on Facebook, from Mom, stating that they were in the ER and didn’t know what was wrong. As much as my rational mind knows not to jump to conclusions, my emotional being accelerated into overdrive and I had to leave work, tears streaming down my face, certain that Dad was being taken away from us. I can tell you that just the memory of the slight increase of possibility of Dad going away makes me cry at the keyboard. And sometimes, when I get homesick after months of separation, I cry just because the family in Wisconsin is too far away. At such times, hearing my father’s voice is a balm that soothes all wounds.
My father’s stories put me to sleep when I was a little girl. He showed his love by the way he spoke, and the things he built. My father built swings and treehouses, custom bookshelves that followed pictures I’d drawn of how I wanted them to look, a bed frame for a futon in my early twenties, and countless vases and boxes made of pieces of wood he finds interesting. My father also cooked; “sawed” potatoes, cowboy cocoa (made with carob powder instead of chocolate; they were “health freaks”), popcorn in coconut milk, and vegan biscuits. His fathering started when I was an infant in Southern California and had to be driven up and down the 405 in order to fall asleep, and continues today, when I call him and ask him stupid questions hoping they’ll spur something in his memory and keep him talking, talking about anything at all, just so I can hang on to the sound of his voice.
For anyone who needs an image of a good dad, let me share my dad with you. His love is big enough. I woke up this morning, after dreaming I’d magically transported my parents Madison, Wisconsin, home into downtown Los Angeles, and was upset that (in the dream) Dad had donated the recliner he’d gotten for Christmas one year to the local LDS ward. He said it was getting creaky. And for some reason the first thing I thought of when I woke up was the time he picked up a long haired hitchhiker, thinking it was a woman, and it turned out to be a hippie. Dad explained, with my brother and me in the car, that he wouldn’t have picked up the man if he hadn’t thought it was a woman, and he wouldn’t have picked up a woman in the car without us there or our mom there, because it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to be alone with another woman. Although he was surprised when it turned out to be a guy, he still gave the guy a ride. Just like he still made a frame for a painting I’d sold when the partner of the purchaser turned out to be another man—he may be conservative, but he’s never been an out-and-out bigot. He is the best example I know of what it means to be Christian. He is slow to anger, quick to forgive, and helps those in need whenever he can, without asking anything in return.
As a three year old, I wasn’t so willing to share my dad. I caught him with one of my cousins on his lap, telling that OTHER little girl a Miss Mousie story, the story about a fearless mouse who stood up to C-A-T-s and protected other mice from harm. For three days, I didn’t speak—not to him,not to anyone. For a child who was “vaccinated by a phonograph needle” as he used to say, this must have taken serious resolve. Finally, I told him that I didn’t like it when he put other little girls on his lap and told them MY Miss Mousie stories. Now I understand that the Miss Mousie stories are not mine at all. They belong to all of us, (or will, or should, or can….) We have been working for years now on three Miss Mousie scripts, and the greatest desire in my heart is to see these scripts turned into animated feature films. Perhaps the “little me” has been sulking, not wanting to share MY dad, and MY stories. But I’m nearing the age Napoleon Hill calls the age of “mental maturity,” which sounds so much better than “over the hill.” And from my vantage point of newfound, budding maturity, I want to share, to let the “BIG ME” put the little selfish me in her place.
The story of the Chinese bamboo tells of a farmer who buys some seeds and waters them year after year after year. He carries buckets of water to his “spots,” and the rest of the village thinks he’s crazy. They laugh at him, and then they stop laughing and stop talking to him altogether. It takes seven years of watering the bamboo before anything happens. Then when the sprouts finally appear, the bamboo, which has been secretly growing underground and putting down roots, shoots up ninety feet in just a few weeks. Wikipedia tells us “Bamboos are some of the fastest-growing plants in the world, due to a unique rhizome-dependent system. Certain species of bamboo can grow 35 inches within a 24-hour period, at a rate of 3 cm/h (a growth of approximately 1 millimeter (or 0.02 inches) every 2 minutes).Bamboos are of notable economic and cultural significance in South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia, being used for building materials, as a food source, and as a versatile raw product. Bamboo has a higher compressive strength than wood, brick or concrete and a tensile strength that rivals steel.”
The story of the Chinese bamboo farmer has a happy ending: the farmer is rich, his harvest enough to provide amply and abundantly for his entire family. His “fruitless” effort is rewarded only after his faith has been tested and he has continued to persevere, not only out of faith, but out of the habit of nurturing his dream harvest through watering.
In my own life, in my own self-measurement, I’ve only begun to show a few signs of success—perhaps the little bamboo shoots are just barely poking through the mud. I’ve overcome some self-destructive habits and ways of thinking. I’ve paid off a few debts and expect to be able to continue to pay off my debts. Hopefully, I’ve become less selfish and more like my dad.
The love of my father, through my entire life, has been like that Chinese farmer watering on barren ground. Oh sure, I produced a few early works of prodigy, but I held the entire society and system of accomplishment, reward and recognition in contempt. I needed to do a lot of work on the inside. My being required roots in the world. No matter how much I screwed up, no matter how terrible my moods and rage that the way things were was not the way things should be, my father never stopped showing me his caring concern. Those three a.m. phone calls a parent might expect during a child’s teens or early twenties didn’t stop until I was well into my thirties. My father, in his eighties, answered those calls with the same loving kindness and selfless patience he would have used when I was an infant, and he was in his mid-forties. There were even a few Miss Mousie stories given long, long, long after I should have been too old to need to be soothed back to sleep by my father, though these later stories came over the telephone rather than snuggling in his favorite recliner.
I can’t locate the earlier versions of this site, where I talked about the costumes and sets Dad made for our Playtime Productions theatre group, or his knowledge of songbirds. I don’t remember if I talked about Mac the gentle giant, the farmer whose land he inadvertently trespassed on and the various stories that involved guns, criminal threats, and bluffing to cheat death. Or the time he was almost elected Mayor of Oakland, or how it was Dad who coined the term “the soaring sixties.”
I could go on.
But you get the point.
Dad, I love you.
Happy Father’s Day.