Dad always answers the phone to me, “Hey Beautiful.” It always makes me smile.
My dad reads German theologians for recreation. He also puns constantly and loves Notre Dame, the Astros, fishing, hunting and 99.9% of all classic English literature. He is Texan. He is Southern. He is Catholic.
When I was a kid and he was mad, even if I wasn’t the person who did anything, I went to my room and cleaned. The thundercloud would roll by and see a virtuous kid doing only right stuff. This was the image I strove to maintain. I had figured out it would keep me out of trouble. It did, and my parents got a clean room out of the bargain, by allowing me to think I was manipulating them.
I remember him teaching me how to do flips off the high board and how to drive. He taught me to rig a lure for fishing and retrains me when I forget. He didn’t yell when I wrecked the car again. He met all my dates. He made me watch Casablanca and The Quiet Man. He bought me a guitar and a silver bracelet. I can gut a fish, train a dog and make Coq au’Vin today because at some point, he taught me. I cannot do algebra. He tried to tutor me. I know something of Latin. He made me take it. I scream like a banshee at Notre Dame Football. He showed me the game and helped me come to obsess over it.
Dad drove me to get ice cream when I lost my wallet at Christmas. Dad took me out to lunch when I worked at his office. Dad asked me to paint some crabs on the fireplace at the beach house and helped reel in the 40+pound Red Fish I had hooked. Dad danced with me at the Debutante ball and I wished, oh how I wished, he was at the table with me, for my date was boring.
Senior year at Saint Mary’s College, he wasn’t coming to Father/Daughter weekend. I tried to be offhand about that, I wished he could be there but knew money was tight. The Sunday before the Father/Daughter weekend, my then boyfriend proposed. That Friday, Dad was on a plane.
As my roommate and I got dressed to go out to dinner with him, Dad was serving as her dad for the night too, I said, “Just watch, the first thing Dad’ll say is “Why do you want to marry my daughter?” Annie laughed and disagreed. “I’ve met your Dad, he won’t say that.”
We picked up Marc, my fiancé at Notre Dame and drove to the restaurant, Dad, Marc, Annie and Me. No sooner were we all seated, then my father said, “Why did you ask my daughter to marry you?” Annie and I looked at each other and bust out laughing. Marc was left with two giggling girls and no help. He rallied. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Dinner was fun.
That summer I worked at his office. I went on walks with him sometimes when we were both dieting. We’d talk about food and how much we missed it. We’d argue over wedding plans, band vs. DJ, morning suits vs. Tuxes, receiving line vs. announcements by the band.
Eventually, My Dad sang the Notre Dame Fight song to me as I walked into the Church to get married. It helped me to stop shaking. I remember Dad’s smile as he walked towards me at my wedding reception to have our dance, but I do not remember the song.
Sometimes he sends me papers by his favorite theologian, Von Balthazar. I dutifully try to read the treatise, “Does Original Sin Exist?” but I want to scribble back a short post-it, “Yes. Next Question.”
Dad has had many heart surgeries, but the one I remember is the one in 2000. I arrived after the surgery had taken place, and sat in the living room with Danny and Joe and Jennifer and my newly crawling son, feeling how empty the house felt with Dad in the hospital. When we went to visit at the hospital, Joe and Danny attempted to move Dad by lifting the recliner he was in, and dropped the chair. I was terrified, but Dad was okay. He showed me the stitches that ranged all over his body. They had cut open his chest, taken out his heart, stopped it, cut away things and put everything back together and stitched him up. I looked at the long line of black threads on his legs and arms and it looked like a large black rosary to me had been carved onto his body. It hurt to look but he was alive and so I looked anyway. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time.
Just before we left, a former partner of Dad’s, dropped by to check on Dad. I had entertained a long-standing dislike of the firm restructured and Dad left. I occasionally called to jam up the 1-800 line at the firm but knowing this was childish, I had stopped. Seeing the man visit my Dad at the hospital, I thought, “Damn, now I’m going to have to forgive them.”
Dad held no grudges so I couldn’t either, much as I might sometimes want to…really. That ugly stuff still doesn’t matter. He still calls me and says, “Hey Beautiful.” because that’s how he sees me and how God sees each of us. “Hey Beautiful.”
And by saying that, over and over, eventually, we come closer to becoming it.
Happy Father's Day Dad!
2013 update: When I went to see my dad in April, his face lit up. He doesn't speak often these days. But when I came into his room in April, his face lit up and he said, "Hey beautiful." Yeah. I cried.