Saturday, June 17, 2017

What Good Fathers Do

My father can't explain the rationale of calculus, nor the activities on Wall Street. He doesn't understand a thing about computers, and wouldn't know a motherboard from a washboard. A father of the 50’s and 60's, he doesn’t cook, do laundry, make beds or iron clothes. I doubt he ever changed a diaper in his life.

But whatever Daddy lacks in technology proficiency and domestic skills, he has made up for in other ways.

As a child, I thought of my father as a very brave man. A man who always made things better.


In my first recollection of him, I am a toddler. He is holding me in his arms, walking around a darkened room while I cry, frightened by a nightmare. My breath comes out in jerky gasps, and even now, I can still hear Daddy's smooth baritone voice as he prays for his scared little girl.



When I was six, I attempted to show off my bike-riding skills to an important guest. Instead of the flawless demonstration I hoped for, I was mortified when I crashed headlong into the side of the house. My father tenderly led me inside for some first-aid.


Daddy often drove me and my sisters to the Vicksburg library after school, where he would wait patiently while we checked out mountains of books. One afternoon, while racing to the car, I tripped over a large crack in the sidewalk. Suddenly, I flew through the air, landing with a brutal bang on hands and knees, books scattering in every direction. I remember looking up and seeing Daddy leap out of the car to inspect my scrapes. And I remember him carrying me to the car, and how safe I felt in his arms.

There is an old picture somewhere of my dad holding up a dead snake as long as he is tall. As a little girl, I used to stare at that picture and think, How could anybody be so brave?

But that is what good fathers do. They kill the snakes. They do what nobody else wants to do.

If we had a flat tire, Daddy got out in the heat (or sleet) and changed it. 

If a noise was heard in the night, Daddy was expected to go check it out. 

If we got caught in a rainstorm while driving to church or elsewhere, it was understood that Daddy would let us out under the awning, while he parked the car and got drenched on his way inside. 

If the roof leaked, we never doubted that Daddy would find the hole and plug it. 

If a mouse left evidence laying around, Daddy was expected to bait a trap, inspect it for success, and dispose of whatever landed there.

And at the end of the day, Daddy was the one who sat at a little scuffed desk and paid the bills. Not once do I recall him mentioning money being tight, even though I feel certain there were times when it was.

As the years passed, I came to the shocking realization that fathers aren’t perfect—not even those who kill snakes. They make mistakes. They act like jerks. And sometimes they break their children’s hearts.

But I also learned that whenever fathers acknowledge their mistakes, and ask their children to forgive them, then they are brave indeed.

Eventually, I got too big and too proud for my dad to carry around after a bad fall, but he still carried me in his heart.

I was 22 when I became engaged to a handsome young man I’ll call Joe. With eyes the color of a robin’s egg. Joe was going to make my every dream come true. We planned a late-summer wedding; I couldn’t wait for my father to escort me down the aisle.

But one night, just three weeks before the wedding, Joe called to say it was off. Just like that. It felt like a giant stone sat on my chest. Not only was my heart broken over a lost love, but I thought of all the planning and all the purchases, including my wedding gown, and 400 invitations that were to be mailed the very next day. I remembered all of the gifts that friends had generously given already. They would have to be returned with a sad note attached: Thank you for your generous gift of such and so, but I regret to inform you that the wedding has been cancelled. Deep down, I wanted to die.

The next morning, Joe called saying he needed to see me in person before leaving town. When he knocked on the door, I moved to open it, but my father beat me to it. In one swift motion, he opened the door and said, “Now Joe, I want you to know that I’m not pleased with how you’ve broken my daughter’s heart. You need to say what you came to say, then leave. Is that understood?” My father is a tall man and I remember thinking he’d never looked taller—nor Joe more terrified. I honestly thought Daddy might punch him.


It was Sigmund Freud who said, “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.” And I don’t think you fully outgrow that need. Even though I have a wonderful husband and a grown daughter now, there is comfort in knowing that should I ever have a real crisis in my life, my father, on a moment’s notice, would drive the distance to make it better. He would kill the snake, plug the leak and dispose of whatever lay in the trap. He is, after all, my father, and that is what good fathers do.


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This essay appears in the new title, A Cup of Comfort for Fathers, (Adams Media), edited by Colleen Sell.

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NOTE: This blog first appeared on June 19, 2010 and is republished today in honor of good fathers everywhere.

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28 comments:

  1. What a beautiful tribute to your father.

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  2. Oh Dayle, this made me have tears in my eyes....just beautiful.

    LuLu♥

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  3. I absolutely love this post. You put into words so well that feeling that a little girl has for her father that NEVER, ever really goes away.

    Our first and best heroes, I think. Your post made my heart smile.
    And I love that Freud quote. Who knew?

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  4. Dayle this is beautiful. How blessed you are to have such a loving father.

    Blessings,
    Joan

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  5. I've been reading a lot of Father's Day tributes, but it was yours that brought tears to my eyes. Such wonderful photos and examples of how your dad has always been there for you.

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  6. Hi Dayle....Very nice tribute to your Dad. He should have punched Joe in the nose! ha! Great job. Susan

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  7. Loved this, sis, and I love our daddy.

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  8. Hi Dayle,
    What a wonderful story. I loved your pictures of your father...they are special aren't they? I have my favorite pictures of my dad that I keep out all the time, makes me smile each time I look at them. Thanks so much for sharing!
    Sharlotte

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  9. This was SUCH a wonderful post. And your right. I think you caught one of the most important attributes of a good father. How blessed you were. My own dad had MANY problems and demons that he fought. I have only a handful of memories that are good, and soo many more that weren't. But the ones that were good were very similiar to yours. How he somehow could make something OK, or the feeling of safey he could bring about just by his very presence sometimes. Loved hearing your memories of your precious dad. Have a wonderful day...HUGS, Debbie

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  10. What a beautiful beautiful Father's Day tribute...And such a sweet photo of you and your father...
    www.myautumnyears.blogspot.com

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  11. I enjoyed this so much! Thank-you for sharing your stories and the love that you have for your father and like wise.
    God Bless,
    Ginger

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  12. What a beautiful post and a beautiful tribute yo your Dad, and - the pictures are so special. Thank you for sharing.
    Blessings,
    Charlotte

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  13. Thank you for sharing your beautiful stories. My sister had a Joe who called off their wedding unexpectedly. Your story brought tears to my eyes remembering her experience last year and how our dad was there for her. Thank you.

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  14. Such a wonderful tribute.
    Great post!
    Blessings.
    " R e g i n a "

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  15. I think this country would be a much better place if the fathers today acted like the fathers of yesterday. I loved this, Dayle.

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  16. I felt the same comfort with my dad. While I was reading your words, pictures of my dad came flooding back.
    Thank you for the walk down memory lane. I only wish I could tell him one more time what he meant to me.

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  17. What a lovely tribute to your father. It truly was a different time and place in those "old days" wasn't it. A lot if things were left unsaid but we all understood them none the less . . .

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  18. Dayle, how fortunate you are to have had a protective father!

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  19. I love love love this post! What a wonderful tribute to your dad!!

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  20. Dayle, this made me tear up b/c I feel the same way about my daddy. It scares me to death that his health is failing now, but back in the day, he, like your dad, was the killer of snakes, baiter of the traps, the hole plugger, and also the first man in my life. He will always be special and will always be the best father ever in my eyes. I love the way you write!

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  21. I loved your Father's Day post, Dayle. Your father is a special man. I know, because he has a special and precious daughter! Hugs. Susan

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  22. Wonderful! I am so glad that Joe took off so Mr. Right could step in. God knows. Your father handled that just right. So handsome, too... Happy Father's Day to him!

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  23. I loved this post with all of these wonderful black & whites. A wonderful tribute to your sweet dad. I hope you enjoyed a beautiful Father's Day together!

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  24. I read this through, looked at the pictures and thought what a great read of an amazing relationship. Your heart for your dad shines brilliantly Dayle. Your dad has been a true father. Loved loved loved reading this.

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  25. As always, this is just perfect. I love reading of the love you and your daddy share, Dayle.

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  26. Oh what a wonderful tribute to your dad. And how wonderful that you mention that parents aren't perfect. I love my dad very much, but he was not a perfect dad, or husband for that matter. My dad never had a good example of a dad or husband. And sometimes when I get very frustrated with him, or disappointed in him, I try to remind myself that maybe he does the best he can. I am thankful for my dad, even though he has disappointed me many times. Bless you today dear friend.

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  27. Oh, sweet friend! This is just precious! It made me think of my own dear Daddy! Thank you for sharing such a precious tribute. I am SO sorry for the hurt inflicted by the thoughtless actions of Joe. I have a hunch he has lived his life in regret. God bless you for the blessing and inspiration you are to us all.

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  28. Beautiful post, wonderful tribute to you father! You are indeed blessed. Thank you for sharing..your father is so fortunate to have a gifted writer, you!

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Dear Readers, I adore your company and your comments. If you ask questions here, I respond to them here, so please check back when you have a chance. Kind regards, Dayle