He Was Our World

All parents have bedtime rituals they go through with their kids, and all kids learn to expect the routine. When I was little, my favorite part of the ritual was when Dad would come in to say goodnight, and we would beg him to “bounce us”. He would pick us up and tell us to stiffen up, like a board. We’d lie flat across his arms, and he would toss us up in the air and flip us over, from our stomach to our back and vice versa. We never knew how many times he was going to catch us before he finally let us drop to bounce on the bed. Then he tucked us in and said goodnight. Anyone who has had any experience with kids knows that this is exactly what you should not do right before bed, because he wound us up and left us laughing in the dark, far from being ready to fall asleep. And Mom would just shake her head and say nothing. It was Dad’s ritual and we loved it, so she let it be.

 There is something incredibly special about the relationship between a father and his children. Obviously that’s true of a mother-child relationship too, but I’ll save that for another discussion. Lately, I’ve been thinking about dads.

 I had a conversation recently with a friend who lost his father just before the holidays a couple years ago. I don’t know this friend’s history very well, and I didn’t know his dad at all, but the subtle change in my friend’s voice as he told me about his father was unmistakable. What I took from the conversation was this… his dad, Jim, was larger than life. Jim was a big man, standing at a towering 6’5” over his pretty little wife. But it wasn’t his size that made him a giant. It was his character. Jim was married at 22 while still in college. He joined the family furniture business and ran it for more than 20 years. During that time he and his wife had three kids who were raised to live by the Golden Rule and let their faith guide them. My friend told me once that he just wanted to be seen as a good person, like his dad was.

 The loss of his father was sudden. Jim went for a walk one day and didn’t make it home. In fact, he didn’t make it to the end of the block. It was just his time. He was one of the longest living double transplant recipients, having received a new kidney and pancreas to battle his diabetes 18 years earlier. He had gone on to make the most out of life, and counseled others going through the same procedure. The Organ Transplant Society publications bear Jim’s quote, “No one should have to go through this alone.” Jim showed his children what it meant to be a good man, and they would discover that he would be their example of what a parent should be as well. To his wife, he was a good husband. To his community, he was an honest business man and good Samaritan. But my friend said something that left me thinking for days about the importance of fathers. When talking about how he and his sisters leaned on each other every year on their late father’s birthday, my friend was quiet for a minute before saying…

 “He was our world.”

 The love of a mother is one that is soft, patient, nurturing, protective. Metaphorically speaking, moms are like a warm hug when you need it most. But the love of a father is different. I remember Theo, my little brother, saying that our dad was the strongest man in the world. As a toddler, he could easily be coerced into eating his food if you told him that “5 more bites” would make him big and strong like Daddy. Children put their fathers on a pedestal and strive to make them proud. Dads are more likely to let their children climb out on a limb and sometimes fall. They’ll be there to pick their kids up, but unlike a protective mother, a dad wants to see his kids push themselves… face failure and learn from it. Scratch up their knees from bike crashes and do it better next time. Research has shown that it’s our dads who teach us to believe in ourselves.

 Studies have also shown that the influence of a father in a girl’s life is predictive of emotional health as an adolescent. Girls who grow up with an involved father are more confident and less likely to wind up in an abusive relationship. It’s our dads who teach us the way we should expect to be treated by men and to stand up for ourselves. I don’t mean to imply that these things can’t be learned from our moms, or that every dad is a good dad. That’s simply not the case. But having a great father figure is undoubtedly a “one up” and a true blessing in a child’s life.

 Hearing my friend talk about his father so reverently dug up some memories for me. I was about 10 years old the first time I received flowers for Valentine’s Day. Three roses and some baby’s breath… from my dad. I felt so special, as if I’d graduated into a new chapter, because I thought only women received Valentine’s Day flowers. The little card said “A rose for my Rose.” (My middle name is Rose.) My dad was the only person who ever called me by that name… or Rosie. He also sang Yellow Rose of Texas to me all the time, until I had every word of the song memorized. To this day, I still have that little Valentine’s Day card.

The summer before my 8th grade year, my dad was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. He had been sick for a while, and we finally knew why. He was hospitalized for a short time, and when they released him, we were told that he shouldn’t be alone until he was used to regulating his blood sugar levels with insulin. So I volunteered to move back to the ranch, go back to the little one-room schoolhouse I had attended when I was younger, and live with Dad. (We had two homes at the time… one in Spearfish, where Mom went to college, and one at the ranch where Dad’s livelihood was.) So Dad and I became very close that year. He would let me drive the old ranch pickup the 10 miles to school, as practice before I got my license. He didn’t bat an eye when I backed into my grandpa’s pickup, damaging both vehicles. It was a learning experience, he said. Dad and I sang to country music on our trips into town. We had our favorite shows. We walked a hundred miles, scouting for deer before hunting season. We truly became friends. And to this day, my dad is one of my closest friends. He taught me to be independent, but is always there to pick me up when I fall. And as much of a rock as he is for me, he is a marshmallow on the inside. If Dad ever sees me cry, his eyes water along with mine. It’s a bond that I cherish.

So as I heard my friend talk about the loss of his father, my heart ached for him. I imagined all the calls I make to my dad, to share milestones, to ask for advice, to bounce ideas off of him… and I can only imagine the emptiness I will feel when the day comes that I can no longer call my dad. Actually, we had a scare a few years ago, so that day came a little too close for comfort. Dad was told he had Melanoma, and a misunderstanding between him and the doctor led our family to believe that he had Stage 4 Melanoma. Stage 4 means that the cancer has spread to lymph nodes, the blood, the organs, etc. The prognosis is terrible. I was driving when Dad told me the news, and I could barely stop shaking enough to pull my car over and have a grand scale break down. My brothers and I all flew home for Dad’s next appointment with the specialist. And you better believe some tears of joy flowed when we learned that it was actually Level 4 Melanoma… indicative of the cancer’s depth in the skin. It had not spread, and a simple surgical procedure would cure him. We had a second chance to make the most of our time with Dad. I dread the day that I have to face that terrible news again.

 When a child looks at their father, they don’t see how much money he makes or how powerful a position he holds. That’s not how a man rises up on a pedestal in his child’s eyes. Rather, it’s the time he spends playing with his kids that matter. It’s stories he tells them. It’s playing catch. It’s laughing together. It’s wrestling and tickle fights. It’s bedtime rituals and letting kids break Mom’s rules sometimes. And it’s even the tough love that he has to give as a disciplinarian. It’s a one-of-a-kind relationship. We should all count our blessings if we had an amazing father, and count them a second time if we still have him…. because we only get one dad.

 And he was our world.


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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. eric
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 09:34:36

    A beautiful article, Pam. I’ve been a father for 11 months now and it has made me appreciate how much my dad did for me.


  2. eric
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 09:41:05

    . . . not that you have to be a father to appreciate your own, of course . . .


  3. pamelablair
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 09:43:49

    11 months? Same age as my nephew. He’s so fun right now!


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