What defines a father beyond the biological definition? To me, it's the way the "cape" falls over their shoulders, the holes in the bottom of the shoes from constantly trying to keep up, the worn folds of their wallets, premature graying at the temples, deep laugh lines at the corners of their eyes, and the permanent worry crease between their brows....all symbols they've shared a child's life.
I was blessed to grow up with two grandfathers who were both upstanding men. One, Grandpa Jo, I didn't see as much, but he spent every Christmas Eve with us. His trademark? A cane. One he square-danced with. I remember sitting on the hearth and giggling while he'd demonstrate. His hair was white as snow, his eyes chocolate brown, a WWI veteran who died at the age of 92 with a piece of shrapnel still lodged in his hip. Thus...the cane.
Grandpa Swain, feisty, stubborn, and almost as wide as he was tall, cursed worst than an old salty sailor. "Son-of-a-bitch" flowed eloquently off my toddler tongue by the age 3. When his father died, Grandpa was only 13 years old and the eldest child. He dropped out of school and went to work in the silver mines of Park City, Utah, to provide for his mother and siblings. He taught himself how to build houses from the sketches, to blueprints, to framing, plastering (no sheetrock then) until the last stroke of paint coated the walls. He owned a successful construction company wherein he taught his sons the trade that carried on long after he was buried. He owned the "pink cadillac" I blogged about months ago, always had a 6-pack of beer hidden in the fridge in the basement for "grandma's hair" and I imagine still swearing a blue streak beyond the pearly gates.
I was "daddy's little girl" and knew how to manipulate the title to my advantage whenever possible. The eldest child, only daughter, and commander of three little brothers left in my guard after school until parental supervision arrived home from work I got a taste of parenthood at an early age. I watched my parents struggle to keep us in a nice house in a respectable neighborhood. My dad taught me the meaning of work and a paycheck during the summer where I worked in his print shop and earned enough to buy my own school clothes from ninth grade on. Today, he's in the throes of Dementia, and my title of "daddy's little girl" has changed to warden, caretaker, and a couple of unsavory names yelled when his mind triggers a bad episode. I'm now the "parent," a role I got by default being the only daughter and closest relative. Watching your pillar of strength throughout childhood crumble, is difficult to describe and some days unbearable.
That's why I'm thankful for the strong arms of the superhero I married a century ago (some days feel that way). He drags me to my feet when I collapse and pushes me when I don't want to go on. He fits the description in the first paragraph above. Raising 4 children (2 surprise twins) and stepping in to juggle the balls I have in midair when I need to escape life for a moment, I'm sure was not in the travel brochure when he signed up for marriage. No, I'm pretty sure at age 23 there was only one thing on his mind when he took the matrimonial leap, however, life is in constant motion, and three years later, the game plan had changed drastically. Still in shock from when I announced we were going to be parents several years and a few grandkids ago, he's never once faltered since "dad" became his new name. He's changed dirty diapers, walked sick babies, rushed kids who thought they were invincible to the hospital, hunted down boyfriends who had his daughter out past midnight, towed cars teenagers pushed beyond mechanical limits, and even bailed one out of jail when he discovered the hard way that laws were in in place for a reason.
But he also taught them all how to drive a car, ride a motorcycle (a prerequisite of being a member of our family), camp, hunt, fish, work and save money for the things they wanted, and most importantly, to respect others. They are all now adults, applying the lessons their father taught them in their own lives, and when life turns sideways, they know Dad will don his tattered and patched "cape" to swoop in and save the day if he can, or stand beside them when he can't.
Happy Father's Day to all the men in my life, past and present, and to those who have shadowed a child along life's path by kicking a stone away, or holding a hand when one wandered too close to the edge.