This morning I woke up sad and missing my Dad. This might actually be one of the first times, since he died I mean, that I’ve felt sad on a day that you’d expect me to feel sad.
Normally it sneaks up on me at weird times, and in weird places, and on the days when I’m steeled for some weeping I just feel.. blank.
Over the years – even before he died – I’ve written many times, and at great length, about my Dad. Like many women, my relationship with my father defined a lot of how I view myself, and the men in my world, both for the good and bad. He was the first guy in my life, after all, and the one who shaped me in many ways.
Lately, of course, I think a lot about how my Dad would have adapted to the three kids in my life. I love to ponder how he’d have made them a part of his life too. It makes me sad for the kids that they’ll never meet him and will be left simply with stories from me and photos that convey very little about the person he was.
My Dad always bought me Hubba Bubba bubble gum – grape – when he bought himself cigarettes. I remember riding in his pickup trucks, listening to country music, and shoving piece after piece of sweetness into my cheeks ’til I couldn’t even close my jaws to chew them.
He had calluses on his hands – thick and strong – from where he claimed the nuns had slapped him with a ruler for being “difficult”. I do not disbelieve this.
Once, as a child, he got drunk on wine from a friend’s fruit cellar. The friend brought him home in a red wagon and left him on the front stoop of his house. He didn’t get in trouble.
I found out later that his mother had been an alcoholic.
He liked to play scratch-n-win lottery tickets. While I was in university, if the prize he won was less than $10, he’d wrap it in with the others he had won in the preceding weeks and then present me with a rolled-up, elastic-banded bundle of them to cash in every few months. Sometimes I claimed more than $200 in prize money from the huge wad of ’em.
Once, he went away on vacation (after my mom died) and I came home from university to watch the house for him. He promised to leave me money for groceries and gas (since we lived in the middle of nowhere and I was about 19 years old and discontent to sit home for a week unless I could drive to friends’ houses, too).
I arrived to find a large coffee tin filled with $1 coins to buy food and a huge stack of Pioneer Bonus Bucks (over $150 worth) with which to buy gas. I imagined him laughing the entire way to the West coast.
After he married my stepmother, an ill-fated relationship from the start, she moved from her very fancy condo (in the downtown part of a city) to the house I grew up in – a rural property. She was uncomfortable with spiders and the cicada chirpings and the fact that we had a well on our property and thus her showers had to be limited in length – but she managed to grit her teeth and slowly adapt.
I believe the end of the relationship came when, after cleaning out the garage one day, my Dad put on a big leather work glove and carried a live mouse into the house to show my stepmother (who claimed to have never seen a live mouse before). The mouse leaped from his hand, scurried away, and they couldn’t find it. Some days later they discovered she had made a nest under the kitchen stove and filled it with babies.
When I was a kid, he regularly captured wild animals from the garage or the yard – bats, chipmunks, mice – and carried them into the house for me to see. Why he didn’t just call me outside I’ll never know, but he taught me to find small creatures fascinating in all contexts.
Although we teased him mercilessly about his mid-life crisis, my Dad bought and restored a 1971 Corvette Stingray about 6 months after my mom died. I got to help him on the weekends when I came home from university. He and my mother had Corvettes and other fast cars before I was born – and then traded those in for pickup trucks, a Pinto (!) and various sedans over the years – so he claimed to find it comforting to return to a fast car with no backseat (though he had a Jeep Cheroke for the off-season, of course).
After he died, I was tasked with selling his other Corvette (a 1988 convertible) that had a parasitic leak in its electrical system. He had tried everything to locate the source of the leak, including taking it to professionals, but no dice. It needed to be started about every-other-day to prevent the battery from draining fully (and requiring jumping) but man, it had a kick-ass stereo and alarm system.
My Dad had weird taste in music – growing up, I remember him listening to Elvis and Roy Orbison (whose voice, thanks to my Dad’s selection of lullaby songs, still lulls me to near-comatose whenever I hear anything other than the liveliest of his songs) and the Beach Boys. He loved Fleetwood Mac and he loved The Beatles and he loved Polish polka music – because, first and foremost, we are Polacks.
Some of my favourite times were when he’d pick me up at school, desperately uncool music blaring from the t-roof or the convertible, and sing the whole way home. His voice was unparalleled in terms of terribleness – seriously – which is why I’m still quite happy to sing loudly in my own, crappy, off-key voice whenever I get the urge.
He dropped out of school in grade 10.
He could do math in his head like nobody’s business – but always said he was “kind of stupid”. He totally, completely, definitely wasn’t.
As a welder, my Dad worked long hours in various hot factories, melting steel and sticking it to other bits of steel (as I liked to describe it). He smelled absolutely horrible when he came home – from the top of his head to the bottom of his steel-toed boots. He always told me that he didn’t care what I grew up to do for a living as long as it had air conditioning. Good advice, I might add.
His favourite suit jacket was tweed with leather elbow patches. He talked about it for years before he bought it, in fact, and when the day came that he stumbled across the perfect jacket he leaped on it. For a guy who preferred cowboy boots, finding a suit jacket he actually liked to wear to formal functions was pretty awesome.
The suit was ripped, and ultimately unrepairable, the second or third time he wore it. It was a wedding, though I can’t remember whose, and someone insulted my mother. My father and the insulter “took it outside” and when my Dad punched the guy in the face he ripped the elbow area somehow.
Speaking of punching people in the face.. One weekend when I was home, I took the ’71 ‘vette for a drive to put gas in it. The guy at the gas station made a few snide comments about how it was a manual transmission and how girls can’t drive stick and blahblahblah. I came home and, offended, relayed this information to my father. He wordlessly took the keys and drove away.
My stepmother and I looked at each other and shrugged. Twenty minutes later, the phone rang, and a shaky voice asked for me by name. Then he apologized for insulting me and said he would never say anything like that again to a woman. I accepted his apology, confused, and hung up.
Twenty minutes later, my Dad returned home and began firing up the BBQ as if nothing had happened. Later, he told us that he wasn’t going to actually hit the guy – but he wanted the guy to think he was going to hit him.
My Dad went through a phase of cooking Chinese food every chance he got. Apple dumplings were my favourite, but he pretty much made everything available in the Wok with Yan cookbooks. There are beautiful pictures in my album, somewhere, in which he’s wearing a Japanese flag bandana around his forehead and holding some implements in the air and cooking up a storm. It was always really, really good.
He was also a very talented woodworker who made jewelry boxes and candlestick holders and piggy banks (for me, at least) and a grandfather clock and some assorted furniture. Our basement was always full of sawdust – and for years after he died I’d start to cry any time I went near the lumber department at Home Depot and smelled the air.
My Dad had the most unbelievably brilliant green eyes.
When I moved into my first apartment after university, living with my boyfriend, he bought me a cable box that allowed me to get all of the channels for free. He bought it “from a guy who knew a guy” and nudged my boyfriend about the “adult channels”. Before that, he’d record nearly every (non-adult) movie that came on his satellite dish and bring me VHS tapes every weekend.
He came to visit me every weekend that I lived in Toronto until he finally started dating. I didn’t mind.
He didn’t object to my tattoo. He also didn’t approve. In fact, I’m pretty sure he didn’t even say a single word about it.
My Dad didn’t notice my nose piercing for about 3 months until I finally pointed it out.
Sometimes he could be a very quiet guy.
My Dad once threatened to kill one of my boyfriends. I didn’t mind that, either.
My Dad often smelled like Old Spice and Alfred Sung cologne. Not at the same time.
He started going grey and losing his hair when he was 16. He almost always wore a baseball cap – and my mother was constantly swiping it from him, smoothing down his hair, and watching him squirm ’til he could put it back on.
My Dad cried, once, when I got on a plane to go to Mexico (with Girl Guides. For a service project in an orphanage – not, like, Spring Break or anything.) He cried a few times over the years because I was upset about something, but never for anything that I did wrong.
When he drank, which was rare, it was almost always a Rum and Coke. His favourite non-alcoholic drink was Dr. Pepper (same as mine).
My Dad played hockey with “the guys from work” and he played horseshoes on a team for many years. He won trophies for the latter. I liked to tease him about that. I mean, really, horseshoes?
He could fix any small engine. He could also fix most larger engines. He did not approve of “fancy cars” with electronic gadgets that he could not repair – but that didn’t stop him from buying some over the years.
When he bought his Grand Cheroke, with heated seats and all the other little doodads, he told me I couldn’t eat food or drink in the car. That rule lasted about a month. When I inherited it, the ashtray was crammed with cigarette butts and there were fast food wrappers in the back on the floor.
He loved Wendy’s “Frostees”.
We spent more time in silence than we did in conversation.
And oh, man, I miss him.