I talk a lot about my mom, and how much she influences me to this day. But there’s so much of me that I owe to my dad. Most of my facial features come from my dad, though most people say that I take after my mom. Other than skin tone, it’s pretty much all my dad. Serious super dark eyes? My dad. Straight dark brown hair with cowlicks in the back? Dad.
I’ve said quite often that food was an important part of my life, and I have to say… I learned a lot from my dad, even if he’d never imagine that I would have. Being that my mom’s a pescetarian, when I have questions about cooking meat, I usually go to my dad. Also, he worked at a steakhouse during college, both in the kitchen and waiting tables- so he actually is a much better cook than he gives himself credit for. I have many fond memories of eggs benedict with hollandaise sauce that he whipped up for us (and this was after I’d sworn off of eggs), and of the amazing Plankhouse fried zucchini (which used panko bread crumbs before they were trendy).
But most importantly, his stories from his time working as a waiter taught me a lot about restaurant service. And well, people in general. I remember a story about a family who came in near closing time, all dusty, dirty and grimy. None of the waitresses wanted the table, so my dad took it. He looked past the grime and took care of the group, and discovered that it was the son’s birthday. They’d been working on their ranch the whole day (I grew up in Arizona, and yes, people do have cattle ranches out there) and knew that if they took the time to wash up and change, that they’d never make it to the restaurant in time. They thanked my dad for treating them kindly and left him a HUGE tip. Lesson learned: don’t judge a book by its cover.
My dad wanted to have girls, and he got two of us. He wasn’t about to push us into sports, but he did make sure that we knew how to throw a baseball, catch a ball, and properly hold a bat. I loathed PE. Being one of the shorter kids in school, and not exactly the most athletic I was always on the team of losers. It’s rude to say, but it’s true. I was on the team with the other short, scrawny kids and the chubby girls. Except for two sports. When it came to softball, I was always on the best team, playing shortstop. Unlike the other girls who were afraid of being hit by the ball or of colliding with someone when running for a base, I went for it. (The other sport I excelled at? Tennis. Another sport my dad taught me to play)
He taught me how to use power tools. Now, both my parents are extremely good at DIY. Before there were cable channels dedicated to it, I grew up watching Bob Vila, This Old House and New Yankee Workshop. My dad loves woodworking, even though he doesn’t get as much time to work on things as he’d want to. He and my mom collaborated to build a gorgeous cradle dinghy for the boys that they still use today (to play in, not as a cradle). But yes, I learned how to use power tools, and even built bird feeders by myself (with his supervision) for my 8th grade science fair project.
My dad is a geek (he has to be, he’s a mechanical engineer), and made sure that we had some pretty good computers as we grew up. I remember sitting in the “other room” with him, helping upgrade sound cards and adding memory. He showed me that I didn’t have to be afraid to open up my computer and fix it myself. He also encouraged me to learn DOS and BASIC- telling me early on that computers weren’t just “boy things,” and that I should always be proud of how much I know about computers. (Before anyone asks: I haven’t spent that much time keeping up with computers. I can’t fix them for you. I can still upgrade stuff, but seriously, so you can you. You just need to watch a few videos on the internet and read the instructions that come with everything)
He also introduced me to a lot of great things. Big Band music, for one. My dad has a great collection of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman records, including Benny Goodman’s Carnegie Hall concert. I remember when my sister and I were first old enough to be left home alone while the parents were out running errands. Our idea of being rebellious was putting on a few records, especially the Carnegie Hall record so that we could listen to the 12 minute version of Sing, Sing, Sing with all those amazing solos. But listening to it is still pure magic. And he’s the one who really introduced me to all the band leaders and their different sounds. Which is why I danced with him to Moonlight Serenade at my wedding.
He’s also the one who got me into James Bond movies. One night my sister and I were home alone (my parents were at the neighbors), we were flipping through channels and caught part of The Spy Who Loved Me. I mentioned it to my dad, who made sure that I started at the “best” Bond movies… starting with Sean Connery from the start. When Pierce Brosnan was named the next James Bond, we eagerly awaited GoldenEye and saw it together. A little awkward during the Xenia scenes, but it was our new ritual. We saw every Brosnan Bond movie together after that. Well, almost. I cheated and saw The World is Not Enough with TheBoy, but it truly felt like cheating. So I made sure to hold off and wait to see Die Another Day (appropriately abbreviated DAD) with him. And even though it’s the worst of the Brosnan Bond movies, we were able to laugh about how bad it was, and how badly cast Halle Berry was.
He was there when I left for college (he worked less than a mile from my school) and was there to cheer me up when I had ridiculous teachers who felt like I should fit into a label that I didn’t. He’d pick me up at my dorm with a roll of butter rum lifesavers (or the bag of individually wrapped ones) and take me to lunch. By the end of lunch, I’d feel better and able to face the world.
I remember the first big fight I had with TheBoy. We’d been together for two years and living together for about a year and a half, and it seems in relationships that you usually have a fight around that time. I honestly wasn’t sure if it was the end of our relationship. Panicked, I called my dad, catching him as he left work. He turned around, and took me out to dinner. He bought me some comfort food, and talked to me candidly about relationships. While my mom had told me that relationships hit bumpy patches, he admitted that every relationship seems to hit really big ones now and then. That it’s when you hit those moments that you have to take stock and decide whether or not you really love this person, and whether or not you think you can get past the fight. I calmed down, and he dropped me back at the apartment. And I knew (obviously) that I wasn’t ready to bail on our relationship, that I was ready to work past the bumps and be with TheBoy.
While my mom was usually the one to punish us (mostly because as kids, my dad traveled a lot for work), my dad usually was the one to help talk us down from being mad at my mom (as she was always right, and we were wrong). Except for a couple notable moments, when he proved he was just as capable of scaring us straight. One day, I was being a surly 10-12 year old (I was surly at that age, less so as a teenager, go fig) and kept slamming my door. He came barging into my room with a tool box and dared me to do it one more time, saying that he’d take the door off the hinges. And I knew that he could, and would take it off. I didn’t slam the door anymore. In that same time frame, I remember being a snot about not wanting to take a shower. Why, I have no idea, but I suppose I thought I was making some sort of stand. My dad picked me up and threw me into a cold running shower… while I was fully dressed. In jeans. Parents, if you want a lesson to really stick, make the punishment involve cold wet jeans. To this day, I still won’t go anywhere near water if I’m wearing jeans- I remember how heavy they were, and how hard they were to get off…
I could keep naming moments where my dad came through for me, conversations we had in the car when we car pooled, or tell you the number of Fatburgers we consumed over lunch breaks. But I figured I’ll just leave you with the picture I have of my dad that sums up the perfect moment with him.
There we were, getting ready to walk down the aisle. I was nervous as could be- not about getting married, but because every person kept telling me to be careful walking on the aisle runner (fabric on a wood floor). I was terrified that I was going to fall in front of everyone. He let me squeeze the heck out of his hand, and told me that it wasn’t going to happen.
So thanks, Daddy-o. Happy belated birthday.
Originally published at American Whitney. You can comment here or there.