Old as she was, she still missed her daddy sometimes. — Gloria Naylor
Like a good amateur psychologist, when I encounter a hot mess of a woman I immediately look to her father. More often than not, women with low self-esteem and self-destructive tendencies (from hookers to housewives) have dubious dads. Maybe he wasn’t around and Mom had a confusing variety of “special friends.” Perhaps he was around too much, in an abusive and destructive way. Point is, a young girl’s relationship with her father shapes her self-respect and the way she will relate to men later in life. Therefore, I am confident that it is by no coincidence that my three sisters and I are strong women with healthy and rewarding relationships. As an adult, I count myself among the especially fortunate daughters who are able to appreciate their dads as both father and friend.
A few weeks ago, my father and I attended a baseball game for the first time together. My dad is not the overtly masculine type. He prefers Andrew Lloyd Webber to the Rolling Stones, red wine to Budweiser, and Desperate Housewives to ESPN. If someone were to whisper “grand slam” in his ear, the first and only thought to enter Dad’s mind would be his preferred breakfast. So when he asked me to clear out a Thursday afternoon and join him at the ballpark, I correctly presumed that Dad, who is frugal to the core, must have scored some free tickets.
After we’d finished marveling at how crowded it was for the middle of a weekday (didn’t any of these people have jobs?), Dad explained that even though he had no interest in the sport, this was the first of two games he would be attending in June. The tickets to the first game were given to Dad (and just about everyone else in the section) as a token of thanks for his work as a volunteer ambassador at the airport. His second visit to the ballpark would be funded by the Make-a-Wish Foundation, in appreciation of Dad’s work as a wish granter. If it weren’t for his volunteer work, my father would never have seen the inside of Petco Park. “Not bad, eh?” he said, brandishing the two $43 ticket stubs at me. “See, baby, I spare no expense,” he added, an apt and oft-repeated joke of his.
After Dad’s booming rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the game began. The crowd cheered and booed as we looked on, confused. It wasn’t until white fireworks shot into the bright blue sky that we figured someone must have scored a home hit or shot a run, or whatever it’s called. I asked Dad to interpret the letters and numbers on the scoreboard for me; I could tell by his meandering answer that he was as clueless as me, so I called him out. “You don’t know, do you? Well, let’s ask—”
“I could never ask anyone in this place that question,” he said in earnest.
“Good point,” I said, noting the multitude of Padres-emblazoned shirts and hats, the fervor in the faces of other spectators. We were like a couple of “suppressive persons” who’d inadvertently wandered into a Scientology convention. Best to keep our ignorance on the DL.
During the second inning, a representative of the airport handed us a $5 certificate. Dad was beside himself when, after we’d worked our way up the line for some lunch, he learned it was two-for-one hot dog day. To finagle something sweet and crunchy, I launched an assault of creative accounting and fancy fiscal rationalization — if we combine the certificate and two-for-one hot dog deal, then that $6 bag of Cracker Jack really only costs a dollar! We returned to our seats with a few drinks and a bag of stale nostalgia and carried on a two-hour conversation while, in the background, the Padres clobbered the Dodgers.
As complicated as he may seem with his dueling “government war-gaming” and “new-agey Kumbaya singing” personalities, my father is really a simple man who takes the greatest pleasure from the smallest things. Snaking a rock-star parking space can keep him grinning for weeks (it is not rare for me to receive a phone call from Dad recounting his recent coup in some notoriously crowded area, like downtown or Balboa Park). On Father’s Day, all Dad wanted was to have some distraction-free time with his progeny and play Wham-O’s Trac Ball, the rackets and ball for which he’d been carrying around in the trunk of his car since the last time we played one year ago.
Time was tight — Jane and Heather had to split their Dad’s Day celebrations between their own dad and the fathers of their children. Representing Dad’s brood, Jenny and I (the childless daughters who had the morning free) joined Dad at his church, where every year on that special day all fathers are asked to stand and be acknowledged. After we cheered and clapped for Dad, Jenny and I sat back, flanking our father, and listened to the guest speaker — a Zen Buddhist who spoke of his drug addiction and subsequent quest for his perfect path to enlightenment.
My dad is modest and self-deprecating. He won’t tell you he volunteers for Make-a-Wish without first explaining his selfish motives for doing so; he will wait until he is sure you fully understand the vast extent of his ignorance before he proceeds to display any knowledge. But there is one area in his life about which he will boast without feeling compelled to offer any disclaimers in advance, and that is his God-like ability to create life.
“I have partaken in the unique process in the universe of creation,” Dad said, after I’d asked him to name something cool about being a father. The sky was clear, the air was warm, and a refreshing breeze was blowing over us as Jenny set out the food on a cement table at Presidio Park. Keeping in line with Dad’s preferences, lunch was basic and familiar — turkey, cheese, and mustard on rolls, Doritos, and Chips Ahoy cookies. “Just think,” Dad continued, gesturing toward his four grandchildren, who were playing quietly on the sunlit grass. “If it weren’t for me and your mother, none of you would be here. It’s freakin’ magic.”
I looked at my nieces and nephews and nodded Yes, it is pretty freakin’ amazing. I would have said this aloud, but I was holding an icepack to my lower lip. I had only been playing Trac Ball with Heather for two minutes when I took the high-velocity, air-filled plastic ball in the face. Dad was quick to give up trying to choke back his laughter when he saw my cracked and bleeding Jolie. “You know,” he said, “that has never happened in the history of Trac Ball.” Subtext: you must really be a moron. For his playful teasing, Dad earned a swollen smirk, a vision that apparently made it more difficult for him to continue chuckling guilt-free.
When we’d finished eating, Dad took a seat in his lawn chair and watched on like King Triton beholding his daughters from his throne. “Are you having a good day?” I asked, with a bit of a lisp.
“It’s perfect, just perfect,” said Dad. Sensing he had more to say, I stood silently beside him as he gazed at Heather, Jane, and Jenny, who were chatting with each other while making sure the children didn’t stray too far from the blanket Jane had set on the grass for them. “You know how an artist is never happy with their creations?” Dad asked rhetorically. “Well, I’m more easily pleased. I feel like an artist who can sit back and say, ‘Okay, I’m finished with it, and now it’s up to other people’s interpretations.’”
“What’s that feel like?” I asked.
Dad let out a little laugh and shrugged his shoulders at the idea of putting into words what he felt was beyond language. After a moment, and still laughing, he said, “It’s just super cool.”