When I was a little girl, fathers were not as involved in raising children. My dad worked a lot of overtime, and when he was home, he had work to do around the home. Our family ran more like one of today’s small corporations: Dad was the Director, and Mom was the Manager, with lots of independent decision-making authority. Dad had an open door policy, but he was a little removed on a day-to-day basis, so sometimes it was more comfortable to go to Mom.
I loved it when Dad was home, still, I was a tinsy bit afraid of him. He had a whole life that was somewhere I was not. Most the time he was off at work for Bell Telephone Company, Dad called work ‘Ma Bell’. I liked the way that sounded, work could take care of him, no matter what. Dad always told stories to Mom about the people he met. He fixed the telephone lines, by climbing up poles; sometimes the poles had metal rungs on them for climbing, but most of the time Dad hooked big giant spikes to his shoes and strapped them tight around his legs. Then up the pole he climbed, keeping steady with a belt that hooked around his waist and the telephone pole. I knew what that looked like ’cause lots of times he brought his climbing gear along on vacation, and when he got bored up a tree or pole he would go. Maybe that’s how I got the idea climbing trees was so much fun. Way up there, he could see all over the city, and into houses, because sometimes people forgot to close their drapes. That made Dad embarrassed, so he climbed all the way back down, knocked on the door, and said, “Excuse me Ma’am, I just want you to know I’m working on your line right outside your house.” It was always ‘excuse me ma’am’, cause all the men were at work.
Once a pretty lady who was just wearing flimsy nightie opened the door. “I know,” she said leaning against the door jamb with one arm over her head, like she was trying to keep it from falling down, or something. “I saw you out there from my bedroom.”
Dad told Mom he was at a loss for words, which I could hardly believe at all, so he just said what came into his head first.
“Well, then if you don’t mind me saying, you could use an extension in your bedroom. Maybe you’d like one of these nice little pink princess phones,” he said to the lady, still leaning up against the door jamb. Mom just sat there at the dinner table listening away with her elbows on the table and head resting in her palms. That was okay, ’cause dinner was over, and the rule about no elbows on the table only counted when we were eating. Mom always listened close to everything Dad said, and asked questions so she understood the story, but not too many questions, so Dad didn’t get off track, like I sometimes did. She was the best listener in the whole wide world. Dad told her that’s all you have to do to make friends: just listen, ’cause most the time, people just want to talk. He must have gotten tired of listening at work, ’cause when he got home, he talked up a blue streak, and when he was with his brothers, it was almost like nobody else was there, except somehow, it still felt like I could chime in if I wanted, only I didn’t want to because it was just a whole lot more interesting to listen to those guys talk.
“Sure, come on in,” the pretty lady said. “It’d be great to talk on the phone while I’m in bed.”
Well what do you know, there was a great big bare-naked man in her bed, and for some reason Dad knew that man was someone other than the pretty lady’s husband. I started thinking how much like Goldilocks and the Three Bears that story was, except Dad was Goldilocks telling Mama Bear, “Somebody’s been sleeping in your bed, and there he is.” Now Mom was laughing with her head thrown back and all her silver fillings showing, and I started to laugh, too, which made them both stop and look at me, like they just noticed I was there. Dad wiped up across his eyebrows and pulled down on his chin; no more smile, “Why don’t you go play, like the other kids?” I ski-daddled right out of there, ’cause I could tell by the way Dad’s voice sounded, that he wasn’t really asking a question. I never even told him how much I liked his stories.
Sometimes, when my uncles were over, I liked to just sit under the dining room table with a couple of cousins and listen to all my Aunts and Uncles. They sure did have a great time, especially when they played Yahtzee: rolling the dice, talking and shouting out, ‘oh, I have to scratch my Yatzee’, and everybody laughing uproariously. Once I wrote Dad a note from down there under the table, I hardly went anywhere except to do chores without a book or a tablet and a pencil: ‘I love you. Do you love me. Yes ◊ No ◊. Check one.’ I folded the note up tight and neat as I could, reached up and put the note on Dad’s knee. Right away he opened it up and read my note to himself.
“Come on up here,” he said, looking under the table. He put me up on his knee, took my pencil and wrote a whole bunch of stuff below my name, folded the paper back up, just as tight and neat as before, and handed it back to me. “This should answer your question,” he said, those blue eyes just smiling right down into mine. “I hope you never have to ask that question again.”
I tried so hard to read what Dad wrote, but the letters were all looped together; I only knew how to read printing, and he wrote in cursive. I just stuffed that note right into my pocket, so later on I could ask Mom what it said; she would, for sure, tell me. I could talk to Mom about anything. Only problem is, I forgot and threw my pants in the clothes hamper, and the note got all shredded up and spread over the whole load of laundry. I always forgot to empty my pocket, and I always left Kleenex or paper in there, which always, always, made Mom mad.
I never did find out what Dad wrote on that note. For a lot of my childhood and young adult life, I stayed a little bit in awe of Dad. Still, as I grew older, I came to know exactly what he meant when his smiling eyes looked down into mine: I will love you to the stars and back, until the day I die. He did, and then some.
Here’s a picture of the two of us. We’re not smiling, I think we both had a headache, driving in sunshine did that to us. I like these pictures, because you can see just how much we’re alike, even our body language.