I remember that day like it was just yesterday. It was Christmas Eve, 1997. My family met at my brother’s house to celebrate. My father was there. He handed me a box, and I thanked him. Then he hugged me. His hug that day felt stronger, and lasted longer than usual.
Inside the box was a crystal angel with a card that read…“Lisa, I know that you believe in angels, and I’m glad you do…because I do too. Even though I may not always show it, I love you very much. You are my angel. Love, Dad.” Three months later he suffered a massive heart attack, and passed away. He was 59.
I am three and my father is my patient. I eagerly arrange my new doctors’ kit while he lies on the couch. I take his temperature then I check his blood pressure. I put my plastic stethoscope in my ears and I listen to his heart. “Everything sounds good Daddy.” I go into the bathroom and come back to wash his face. “Oh that feels great, Honey. Thank you.” He says. Then suddenly, his eyes open wide. A look of absolute panic comes over his face. “Pat? Where did Lisa get the water from?” He calls to my mother in the other room. Seems that horrified look took place at the exact moment when he realized I was too small to reach the bathroom sink. “I got it from the potty Daddy!”
I am seven. It is summer vacation and we are driving to Disney World. I can feel the warmth of the sun shining on me through the green tinted glass window. I sit relaxed and carefree as our car hums down the highway. My one brother tosses a baseball back and forth between his bare hand and his freshly oiled glove; while my other brother opens his brand new pack of baseball cards and chews the bubble gum from inside. Elton John is on the radio. Someone saved my life tonight Sugar Bear…Sweet freedom whispered in my ear. You’re a butterfly and butterflies are free to fly. Fly away, high away…bye, bye…I look at my father’s eyes in the rearview mirror, and he looks back at me. Although I can’t see his mouth I can tell by the shape of his eyes he is smiling.
This would be the end of my innocence. The older I became the harder it would be for my parents to shelter me from the other side of my father. The side that kept him from truly enjoying anything. He worried. He worried about many things, too many things. So at a young age he began to self soothe. Drinking too much. Doing anything to make the worry stop. This would continue off and on for the rest of his life.
I am eleven. I haven’t lost an ounce of what my well-meaning aunts called “baby fat.” I am awkward and un-pretty. Today at school I was made painfully aware that those three things combined will most certainly guarantee that I will be the last one picked for teams in gym class. When I get home, I walk into our living room and I see my father sitting in a chair, eyes closed and perceptively sinking. I kneel in front of him. Get up! GET UP! I need you! I yell….but the words never come out. My body trembles with anger and confusion. I stand and walk to my bedroom. I close the door and I begin to draw. I have an artistic gift. I get that from my father. He was a wonderful artist. At least that’s what people told me.
After that I would become hardened. I had made up my mind. My father was not there for me, so I would return the favor. Every time he reached out for me, I turned away. I was so dreadfully wrong to have done that. How could I know what he was going through? If it were me, how would I cope with the unnerving restlessness?
If I could travel back in time I would go to my wedding day. I would pull my twenty-four year old self over to a corner right before the announcement of the father-daughter dance is made. I would tell myself to smile this time. Show respect to the man who gave you this life. Because if you don’t, on a cold October night in 2011, you will find the only television in your house that still plays videotapes. You will sit alone in that room, and you will watch this dance through eyes filled with tears, and you will wish you had smiled for him.
With each passing year I resemble my father more and more. I looked at myself in the mirror this morning. I have his eyes. As I stared at my face I glanced downward and I saw my daughter standing behind me. “What are you doing mommy?” she asks.
. . .“I was just thinking about my daddy.”