My Dad is Some Kind of Wonderful (2013)

You could call me a Daddy’s girl. All through high school, instead of taking a bus, Dad drove me to school—in our, ahem, Mercedes-Benz. We’d arrive about five minutes before class started, which, of course, meant I would have an audience for my arrival, and I would always kiss him on the cheek, self-consciously aware of the boys I was ignoring on my way in. Sometimes I’d toss my Benetton scarf over my shoulder. Since we’d never had much money in my elementary school days, and I was awkward and bookish during middle school, I relished my new role as a born again princess when my parents’ business took off and other students started to treat me differently. There was no such change in my father’s personality, but I do happily recall the day he brought home a stack of hundred dollar bills after cashing a large check and literally showered them over my brother’s head.

My older brother, Marty, used to wear a trench coat and combat boots during the years I was fashion and status obsessed. While getting me up and out of bed was never an issue, Dad had to resort to all sorts of tricks to get Marty out of bed. I still feel the sort of vicarious pleasure that only a sibling can muster when I think of the marbles he kept in the freezer overnight, and the loud expression of shock that came from Marty’s bedroom when Dad used the marbles as a last resort. It’s pretty cool that this trench coat rebel has turned into a polo shirt wearing awesome dad himself.

In my younger days, after leaving high school falling in love with a modern day hippy, I went from suburban princess to granola princess, and my attitude toward my father changed from entitlement tinged with occasional annoyance to outright contempt. In those days, I saw him as a two-dimensional bad guy. Sexist. Racist. Homophobic. Those were the labels I used to dismiss anyone whose attitude, clothing, and lifestyle was not on the fringe of social norms. My father’s actions of service and acceptance toward others regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation mattered little: his participation in a religion which used the word “patriarchal” in a positive context, and the wealth and status he and my mother had worked so diligently to acquire, were proof of a sinister compliance with the Evil Empire. (This is an oversimplification, but the truth about my state of mind during these years is not pleasant, and perhaps not fully appropriate to describe here— after all, this site is about honoring my father, not embarrassing myself or exposing old wounds.)

I did everything I could to sever my association with my family and former self. During those hedonistic early years, when I didn’t visit or call home, for quite some time, my father still met me in public places to drop off monthly checks of several hundred dollars. I wasn’t speaking to my mother. (Mom and I have since not only reconciled, but continue to grow closer all the time. Her love and friendship now sustains me.) When things in my life and relationship went sour, he offered me his blessings, an LDS tradition where male priesthood holders, as they are called, lay their hands on the recipient and say a special form of prayer that is seen as a direct, individual message from God, who LDS people, commonly known as “Mormons,” refer to as our Heavenly Father. Those early blessings I accepted as a form of comfort, but the authority he invoked to “command” me to return to the faith of my youth fell on deaf ears, at best.

Although my father, before he met my highly religious mother, used to chase the Mormon missionaries away from the door by feigning intoxication and swearing profusely, today his personality is inseparable from his faith. He was not raised to fear or know God. He suffered the early betrayal of two wives to whom he was married only briefly and the death, by cancer, of his third wife. Sometimes he still tells me stories about his twenties and thirties that involve bar fights, itinerant wandering, and characters best described as “colorful,” like the one about Mac, the gentle giant, or the tough scrapes he got out of with nothing more than good old Irish moxie. (“….And so I pointed the gun,” he says, “and I said “I’ve only got five bullets and there’s six of you…so who gets to live?” I’m pretty sure I’m conflating the exact details of this quotation, but it’s close enough.)

Not a day went by that I do not recall hearing my father pray out loud. We prayed before meals. We often prayed at bedtime. Today he and Mom pray together in the morning and he prays before a road trip, for safety. The informal template for these prayers start out something like this:

“Our dear kind Heavenly Father, we thank thee, oh Lord, for Thy many blessings…” and then they continue with more thanks, for our health, for our togetherness, for things that God has yet to give. My father’s gratitude for divine providence is never insincere, and always precedes any request for healing or protection.

As I have aged, the judgment and bitterness I once held has softened, gradually transforming into respect and admiration. I see it now as only a temporary stage in my development as a human being: Before puberty, I idealized and worshiped my parents. During puberty and well into my twenties I vilified them. Black and white give way to gray, and today I see my parents as human, but even more remarkable as such. My love for them both, in moments of solitude, moves me to tears.

The last few months, admittedly, I’ve been having an early mid-life crisis. I left my job, where I was well treated and well regarded, after six years, multiple raises, and a promotion, not only out of hope to finally “succeed” in my chosen fields of art and entertainment, but also out of a feeling of the increase in compensation not being enough to feel financially secure. I am still grieving for the loss of so many professional relationships where I knew I was valued and appreciated for my talent. I lost two close friends who I very much enjoyed serving with no strings attached, but who more and more often made verbal jabs that showed an undercurrent of cruelty and a lack of reciprocal care and respect. It helps to remember that my father’s act of standing up to unfair treatment that my family endured among our own religious community preceded the miraculous reversal of fortune that my parents’ commitment to an herbal food company called Sunrider enabled.

It can be painful to stand up for yourself, because you have to admit the price you pay for selling yourself short. I’ve been reading a book about miracles, stories where people in times of hardship or pain were given gifts of emotional, financial, and creative support. The first several chapters, all I could do was pity myself, and replay in my mind traumas where, over the years, in my darkest hour, I felt abandoned and victimized. The prayers of everyone else seemed so much more effective than my own. I literally cried out, “Why has God forsaken me?” When I came to a page describing “giving exhaustion,” I realized I’ve been overcompensating for the years in which I was arrogant and selfish. And again, I think about my dad.

I’ve never seen tears roll down his face (that I can remember. Maybe a couple misty-eyed moments in church, but not …you know, full-blown tears… and certainly not tears of pain, fear, or sadness.) His stoicism, suffering, forgiving and selflessness make my own martyr complex seem nothing more than the self-deception of an overgrown spoiled brat whose own narcissism and pride brought the inevitable fall from grace. My parents gave me every advantage, and I spit on all of it. For them, in their wisdom and maturity, it’s all “water under the bridge.” Yet I find it difficult to forgive myself—not only for my self-centered behavior in my teens and twenties, but also for allowing myself to give well past the point of hurting. I wish I could be more like Dad.

My father is a woodworker. While I was in elementary school, he somehow got his leg caught in a sanding belt and it sanded off a good deal of skin. I didn’t know it had happened until several weeks after the fact. My mother and we kids were home, and he simply didn’t yell or scream because he was more concerned about scaring us than the pain he was in. I don’t, like Marty, have kids of my own, but if I did, I don’t know that I would be able to show such courage.

At the same time, even after Dad’s hopes to go to college and medical school were squashed by the unethical behavior of his own father and stepmother, no matter what demeaning, back-breaking labor he performed, he never another man verbally abuse him or mistreat a woman in his presence. He is humble as dirt and proud as a king.

I’ve had a lot more time to think lately. My mom is probably right when she suggests that is why I’ve been having these strong emotions: I also have time to feel. The thing I feel worst about is not yet being in a position to give back to my mom and dad, and, frankly, starting to doubt my ability to rise to such a position. If I could have one thing on earth, I would no longer wish for a recording contract or a breakout part in a really great movie. Of course I still want these things. But I’ve been waiting half as long as Dad for greater recognition of my talents. My father, who writes all kinds of stories, remains essentially unpublished, and still collects rejection letters. He takes joy in my growing appreciation for his talent, but he deserves so much more—not only because of his goodness, which is admirable, but because of his greatness as a story teller. They don’t make men like him anymore, and the world needs them now more than ever.

The screenplays I cajoled him into writing, based on a unique world he created for me during the early years of my early childhood, were dismissed as “too morally unambiguous” by one production company. They are written as family entertainment, of the animated variety, and they don’t include sexist or sexually or culturally inappropriate stereotypes or the kind of banal humor, based on one character hurting another, that I see in so many popular animated movies. The female heroine is strong and her romantic relationship, though tragic, is enshrined with a chaste spirituality that much of Hollywood sees as irrelevant and commercially nonviable despite the blockbuster success of films such as the Twilight series. (I once read that there are about ten R-rated movies made for every G-rated movie, despite the fact that many of the top-grossing films have been G-rated, because there is no structural accountability to balance supply and demand.)

My strategy for getting these films made is admittedly as pathetic as much of my attitude and behavior. I have done very little other than cheering Dad on during the writing process and enlisting the help of someone who has great knowledge of producing and A-list contacts, most of which have little or no experience in animation. And I’m so embarrassed by the confessions on this page, I’ve coded it “no index, no follow,” (meaning it will not show up in Google searches) and hand-selected only my Facebook friends I trust enough to be gentle and kind to share the link with. Which may end up being nobody but you and me Dad (even though I was talking like I’m not addressing you directly, this is really, truly, made for you.) We’ll see.

The following prayer is not for those friends and family, but to feed the small seed of hope inside me and Dad, that someone up there can help us do more and be more. I pray the way I was shown not out of faith, but out of tradition and familial respect.

Our Dear, Kind, Heavenly Father: I thank Thee, oh Lord, for my many blessings. I thank Thee for the opportunities and privileges I have received; for my car, my loft, my education, my health, my talents and the many friendships that have nurtured me. I thank Thee for the beauty of the parks and trails in this beautiful city I call home. I thank Thee for angels I have yet to encounter, for the day I will accept and know the love and recognition I so crave but in a healthy way. Forgive me, Lord, my weaknesses and transgressions, and bless me with a heart of forgiveness forgive those who have transgressed against me, including myself. Lord, I ask Thee, for the love of my father, that Thou wilst help me find the way to give back to my dad a gift that not only returns, but magnifies, the thousands of acts of compassion and service which he has performed, with no thought of his own reward, for the many decades he has devoted himself to Thy will, and to my mother and us kids. A gift that will restore him to his proverbial throne, and allow him to positively influence millions of children and parents all over the world. A gift that will allow him to give the gifts you’ve given him to so many others. Specifically, please, God, allow me to serve Thee by getting Miss Mousie the movie funded by August 31, 2013 and in the theatres in time for Christmas (December 25) of 2013. I would gladly sacrifice anything Thou asks of me to make this happen. I am fully committed to serve Thee, and to serve my father, in this regard with no higher priority in my life. Please guide me so that I may know what to do and how to do it. Please forgive me when I fail or am slow to heed the prompting of Thy spirit, and help me improve. God, if you’re anything like my dad, you rock. So thanks in advance for listening and giving me a hand. I love you. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you more than a leprechaun loves gold.

Love you!

-Pumpkin

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