Recently I went to the Hall of Science with my nephews. There’s a game in the interacrive section where you’re supposed to think ahead – mathematically, of course. And from there, you move your little dragon pieces until there are no pieces left but this doomed red one. Whomever gets left with the red one is the ultimate loser. Stuff like that loses my attention in a snap – I won’t even lie about it. So I sat on a bench and watched a few people and their kids do it. One dad explained it to his son and they systematically tried out the math involved in not getting the red one. They hive-fived and moved on. Another dad watched his daughter do it, mostly uninterested, as he chatted on his cell phone. And then there were the last two dads that grabbed my attention. The first dad hammered at his son – maybe 10? – about the concept of thinking ahead. He was playing another kid, nervous. And when he lost? His dad berated him. Called him stupid and growled at he stalked off – leaving the kid just standing there feeling über-horrible. And then there was the last dad. The one who you knew was kind of “special”. And he watched his son play another kid – cheering them both on. And when the time came for someone to end up with the red dragon, he reached down and took it. “I lost.” And his son hugged him and he beamed. And well..heck. That’s what good dad’s do. When they can, they take the hit for their kids.
And it got me thinking about my dad. My dad that, when I was a kid, was the one that came home and did homework and laundry and cooked and attended all of my school plays. My dad that, while he was doing the above, also worked seven days a week. My dad that worked nights so he could be home to take me to school and pick me up. That’s not to say my mom was absentee in any way. She worked longer hours though – my mom was climbing the corporate ladder while my dad was playing Chutes and Ladders. When my dad would drop my mom off at the gym, he’d take me to Toys R Us and let me buy Jem dolls. Needless to say, I had all of the Jem dolls and their accessories by the time the winter rolled around and my mom stopped going to the gym.
Before my dad got sick, I took him to see a show on Broadway for his birthday. He’d never been before and I was excited. I got Jersey Boys tickets, made reservations at Morton’s Steakhouse and we met up – just the two of us. And we chatted and ate (he ordered his favorite glass of Shiraz and I ordered my favorite Pinot Grigio) and we even had the biggest molton lava chocolate cake ver (my sweet tooth is only surpassed by my dad’s). Then we skipped the cab and walked down to the show. We sat in our seats and when the music started..and everyone started singing along with the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons hits, it was amazing. The energy, the laughter, the emotion..the everything that Broadway is. And when we left the theater and caught a cab home, he put his hand out – I think more on instinct than anything – so that I didn’t cross the street alone. And I laughed to myself and held his hand – which, no matter how old I get, will always be three times the size of my own..and the safest hands God ever made.
I don’t know how to articulate how important that night was for me. Shortly after that night, my dad got sick..and he can’t walk much now without his cane. It was really the last thing I got to do with my dad that he enjoyed without pain or worry that was just OURS.
And I think back. Not to just that night..but to before that. As a kid, my dad’s hair was black..his face unwrinkled..his posture imposing and his voice booming. As time passed, his hair became salt and pepper..laugh lines developed..and his voice softened. His stance was no longer for fear..but more for respect. And sometimes I tease him..calling him a little old man. I’ve been lucky to have the parents I do..who love me the way they do. And my dad..well, he’s the one that spent most of my time as a little kid with me. He’s the one that can pick up the phone and know from my voice when something is wrong. He’s the one that, before I leave home to go back to my apartment, has food packed and waiting for me to carry out. He’ll always be my biggest hero. Because..that’s what good dads are to their kids.
The funny thing is..when I went to see my parents last they were watching a movie in bed. I hopped in and covered up between them, just like I did when I was a kid (except now there were no siblings trying to get in too..just the grandkids who came clamoring up the stairs and into the bed!) and hugged my parents. They’re getting older..and I keep that in mind, and watching my dad’s health decline of the years makes me spend as much time as I can with them..call them as often as I can. I suppose one day, if I’m lucky, I’ll have a Sunday morning like my parents did last weekend – relaxing in bed and watching a movie with my love of more than thirty five years with all of my special little ones around me.
Let’s face it, my bed’s nice. But..their bed’s always going to be nicer (especially with four little kids and one BIG kid crammed in it, all yelling for attention).