"I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments,
when they aren't trying to teach us.
We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”
― Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum
My father taught me to use a slide rule.
My father taught me the patience, the passion, the pleasure that goes into baking a cake, cream-filled choux, fruit compote.
My father taught me to be humble. My father taught me to be confident. And my father taught me that one can, one should be both.
My father packed us into the old station wagon and invited us to see the world: St. Augustine's Old Fort and Fountain of Youth; the Antique Car Museum and the Circus Museum; Cyprus Gardens and Disney World; adventure after adventure. Far and wide. Hand in hand.
My father took us, every February, to the strawberry farms to pick berries, squatting with us, four small children, among the lush green looking for the perfect red. My father took us every chilly Florida December across the river to the citrus groves to pick oranges, bring home brown paper grocery bags bursting with sunny tangerines and grapefruit.
My father, who must not have minded us laughing at him as we reached our teens, planted a single lemon tree in the barren wasteland that was our backyard, a tree that gave us a single lemon, or not many more. Just for the satisfaction of having a lemon tree. My father, with the patience of a saint, ignoring his children's silly, irreverent remarks, dug up and planted a garden in the hard Florida sand at the side of the house, growing tomatoes and chili peppers which were eaten by no one. Chasing that damn mole around the yard with a shovel.
My father tried to raise me to be brave, yet came to rescue me each time a palmetto bug skittled across my bedroom floor or a silverfish appeared in the bathroom, never happy that I couldn't do this myself. Sigh.
My father tried to teach me to drive stickshift in that rusty old VW Bug in the parking lot behind the grocery store and movie theater plaza. His patience wore thin, my eyes burned with tears, the car stalled out. Over and over again, one more try. Epic fail.
My father tried to teach me calculus, his explanations worthy of the finest NASA engineer but of little use or understanding to a high school student with nary an interest in calculus. Patience. My father helped me build the coolest model of DNA for 9th grade biology class, little wooden balls in yellow, green, red and blue, white plastic tubing twining up and up and up.
My father loved to toss steaks onto the old charcoal grill, flip pancakes on the griddle, offer us charbroiled burgers and hot dogs. My father took us weekly to Dairy Queen (or Dairy Dip as he called it, much to our embarrassment and – later – delight) for chocolate dipped soft serve cones or Dilly Bars on a stick, his own great delight.
My father had a monumental sweet tooth keeping the house well-stocked with hard candies, sour balls and Jolly Ranchers, the freezer packed with gallons of ice cream and tubs of Cool Whip, the fridge stuffed with fruit pies, syrupy cooked prunes, pudding and choux. Sweets were never off limits.
Every summer, my father packed us into the station wagon and drove us up to New York, a single stop overnight at South of the Border, the radio tuned to All News All the Time, non-stop loop of news. He gave up his two-week vacation for my mother, one week with her parents, the second week with her sister and back home, back to work again.
My father sent men into space. To the moon, Alice!
My father taught us how to give, to be generous, self-sacrificing, compassionate. And how to ask little in return (to a fault). A heart of gold, the best man I have known. A man much like the father of my own children.
My father raised us, his daughters, to be as strong, powerful, educated, independent as his sons, a man ahead of his time, a man raised by strong women. My father taught me, his daughter, to work hard, to do my best, to rely on myself before I relied on any man.
My father gave us each a tight hug, a kiss and an "I love you" every single night of our lives that we lived at home.