Every year while the rest of the country is celebrating Memorial Day, our family is also celebrating my dad’s birthday. There’s a special irony to this because while I fully appreciate and honor what veterans have done for this country, my dad, though not a veteran, is a hero to me, too.
The stories I could tell about my dad are really not that remarkable or dramatic to anyone but a daughter– but that’s okay. When you need your dad and he’s there–that’s all the hero you need. Take the time we were skiing together, headed up the mountain on the chairlift and I somehow slipped off, literally hanging onto the edge of the seat, dangling above Gore Mountain. Fast as a flash, my dad grabbed onto my wrists and held me there like it was nothing until we reached the top. I didn’t think anybody could be stronger than him! Or how about the time I was running in a track meet, and wanting to beat the girl who was threatening my lead as we approached the finish line, I literally dove, head first. I heard the crowd gasp as I went down onto the asphalt, skinning my knees and elbows to shreds–and as I looked up, there was my dad, in his suit and tie racing down to the track to rescue me. (Just for the record, I won.) Or the sandbox he built for my 5th birthday. Or the Richard Scary dolls he helped my sister and I sew together. The Girl Scout wood- working badge. The desk for my room. Learning to drive. Singing Thunder Road, or A Cat Named Jake and a Dog Named Kalamazoo. Boating. Camping. Coaching soccer. Of course, these are but a few…because can anyone really number the gifts a dad gives?
And yet, there’s one gift my dad has given me that stands out among the rest: The gift of Optimism. I like to say that I was born with a sunny disposition; a glass half- full kind of girl. And I was. But the truth is, I inherited a lot of it from my dad. “The race does not always belong to the swift but to those who keep on running!” Oh Dad, we would groan! Or, “If you never had a bad day, how could you appreciate the good ones?” >insert eye roll here< Or here’s a good one: “The difficult we can do. The impossible take a little longer.” Sigh. You just couldn’t drag him down.
One of my favorite examples of this was the time he drove a couple of hours to pick up a part for my car. When he got there, it turned out it was the wrong part. All that driving for nothing. I felt horrible. But not Dad. “I’d never been to that town before”‘, was all he had to say. “It was a nice drive.” No whining. No complaining. And that goes for the rest of his life too– he worked hard–at the office and at home. He frequently could be found in his workshop or under the hood of a car, doing all the things dads do. I was impressed. And impressioned. Was anyone smarter or greater than my dad? He gave me an outlook on life that I treasure, that I would need– that I would try to duplicate in my own life.
Now that I’m grown and a parent myself, I see some of Dad’s positive bravado in a different light–not that it’s not genuine–most of it is, I know. But it’s a sacrifice. It’s a sacrifice to smile on the outside when the weight of your family is pressing on the inside. A mortgage payment. Job pressures. Kid problems. Real life, grown up problems. But you filter it all so that your kids can feel safe. Unfettered and unburdened with the cares of this world. So that kids can be kids–not afraid of life or hard times or bad days. Because, as my dad likes to say, “If you have money in your pocket and speak the English language, you’ll be fine.”
Dad and I both know he wasn’t a perfect father. Because no one is. But I watch him with my kids now–the pride, the love, the adoration; The sparkle in his eyes as he watches all of us, actually. And I realize, though not a soldier in a war, still a hero in my eyes. Happy Birthday, Dad. And remember, “Old isn’t bad.”