Things I Learned from My Dad

Dad’s Home! I remember announcing his arrival every night at precisely 5:50 p.m. when he walked through the front door of our small yellow rambler. Not out loud, that would have been dorky, but in my mind, I shouted the words every night. The bus always dropped Dad at the top of the hill right on schedule and his jaunty step from the bus stop to the front door brought him home to us at the same predictable hour. Each night I looked forward to Dad’s return, not only because it meant we were in for a delicious home cooked meal, but because the dinner hour was the time Dad shared his fabulous mind with us—and, as a result, I learned the color, shape and character of his heart.

IMG_0010Mom always had dinner on the table when he arrived. She gave Dad no more than ten minutes to change from his business suit into his white t-shirt and jeans, because apparently we needed to be in our seats before the clock struck 6:00 p.m. Why the schedule was so tight I will never know, but we didn’t question it; we just sat our butts in the vinyl chairs at the small faux wood kitchen table and waited for Mom’s simple but delicious home cooking. But food wasn’t the driving force behind my love of the dinner hour. It was Dad’s dinnertime recitals that brought joy to me each night.

My fondest memories reside in the years between age ten and fifteen, years when I was trying desperately to be more like my beautiful, popular sister, Sue. Maybe Dad sensed my lack of social skills and wanted to give me a different outlet—I’m not sure—but, his words went a long way toward soothing my socially awkward soul.

So, each night at the dinner table, here’s how it went down: In deference to his girls (poor Dad, even the dog and two cats were female) he would sit back for the first ten minutes while we talked about school (me), boys (Sue) and bridge parties (Mom). Then, the magic happened. Dad turned off the left side of his brain, the side he used to work for an insurance company all day, and flipped the switch to his right brain. I can still hear the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain as Dad became The Raven, shouting “Nevermore”.  I wanted to jump out of my chair as Poe’s creepy words rolled off my father’s tongue.

On sunny summer nights, he often lightened the poetic fare with an old drinking song, Barnacle Bill the Sailor. Picturing the fair maiden and the gruff old drunken sailor still brings tears to my eyes—tears of laughter. We laughed so hard at Dad’s rendition of this ridiculous song. If I had known then how bawdy and sexist this song was, would I have laughed so hard? Yes, I would have; it was that funny.

Dad never brought a book to our meal; he knew hundreds of poems from memory. Learning I was the master of my fate and the captain of my soul through the words in the poem Invictus still sticks in my brain today. Invictus was one of Dad’s favorites and I thank him daily for giving me strength with that emotional piece as well as so many others. The Road Less Traveled comes to mind as I journey down this unknown path as a writer—a dream from my youth, finally a reality as I step off the main highway and meander toward that less traveled road. Thanks, Dad, for sharing those beautiful words. I know he’d be proud of me for following our dream.

I’m glad I had the chance to tell him how much those nights meant to me. His love of poetry inspired me to write this poem, Poetry Lessons, a gift to Dad on his 80th birthday.

Poetry Lessons

 If it weren’t for you, Dad, I never would have known
That I was the master of my fate
That I was the captain of my soul

And, if it weren’t for you, I never would have guessed
I’d take the road less traveled
And, be proud I’d done my best.

If it weren’t for you, Dad, I think I might have missed
Barnacle Bill the Sailor and
The fair maiden he wished to kiss

But, if it weren’t for you, I just might have been spared
Gunga Din (the Poem was so long)
But now I read it and see why you cared

If it weren’t for you, Dad, I never would have heard
The rustling of each purple curtain
Or the rest of Poe’s haunting words

Each day I want to thank you for opening a magical door
I loved each poem and word you spoke
But, I love the speaker more

 Five years ago I sat by Dad’s deathbed. I held his hand, veins more prominent on his rough skin, yet his hand felt as warm and comforting as it had in my youth when he walked me across a street. I wanted to be there for him in his last hours, but when I looked into his brown eyes, he was reassuring me, still protecting me as I squeezed his warm hand. A small reaction, then moments later I knew—I felt the life I loved so much leave his body.

Just like those nights at the dinner table, he gave me a gift. He helped me through his death in the same way he helped me through life.

I love you, Dad.

12 thoughts on “Things I Learned from My Dad

  1. Tears in my eyes, reading this. I loved hearing my Dad’s stories at the dinner table too. He could quote the entire “Charge of the Light Brigade”, the only poem I ever heard him quote. When he was in his final days, ravaged by Parkinson’s, I read it to him and told him I treasured the memory of him reciting it. Thanks for stirring up my own memories with your sweet story.

  2. You have a wonderful gift! Your words paint pictures and made me think of my Dad. Our dinner time was very different from yours and I couldn’t help but compare them. Keep blogging.

  3. Thank you Jacquie for sharing so beautifully–you have a gift and I’m so thankful you are sharing with us all!! I remember your dad and your mom so much–keep writing!!

  4. Jacquie, you’ve written a beautiful tribute to your father. What a lucky woman you are to have been so loved, and to have had such a smart, caring, insightful parent. Thank you for sharing this.

    • You have a terrific talent and you must keep sharing. I really enjoyed the story of your son and now the story about your dad. Absolutely lovely!

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