One morning when I was making my dad his standard weekend breakfast — four slices of peanut butter toast on wheat bread — I remember him standing next to me in the kitchen, insisting, “Don’t you ever forget Grace, I’m your father and your mother.” At the time I didn’t think about that statement much beyond the hilarious mental image I had of my dad in a frilly pink apron. But now that I’m older and only slightly more mature, I really do understand what he was trying to say, and I couldn’t be any more greatful.
This blog has obviously been centered on my mom and her breast cancer diagnosis. I’ve also commended some of the most influential women in my life since my mom died. But there’s another critical person that I’ve failed to mention in earnest up until now — my dad. Today I want to change that, and illuminate attention this Father’s Day on the most important man in my life.
My dad had no idea when I was born that he was going to ultimately become my primary caretaker. After all, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer around my first birthday. He wanted to hope that my mom’s initial lumpectomy would do the trick, that things would just go back to normal. But time and time again, his hopes were diminished.
As my mom underwent her chemotherapy, surgeries, and other treatments, I didn’t see my dad that much. I mean, I obviously saw him, but I didn’t see him a whole lot because when he wasn’t caring for mom, he was hauling ass at his business to make enough money so mom could stay home with my brother and I during the last few years of her life. My mom and dad made that agreement knowing that her time was limited. The week before she died, he told my mom, “Sue, I’m going to look after the kids” to which she bluntly responded, “You’re going to have to.”
When my mom died, my brother was a junior in high school. All things considered, while my dad still wanted to support my brother through college, he was essentially grown up. As for me, well, I was 9. I was in third grade, and I still had a lot of growing up to do. And let’s just come out with it, I’m a girl. My dad had to go to the grocery store at 9 PM on a Friday one time to get me pads after my second period; my dad had to be made aware of all the boys I dated in high school; and my dad had to be there for all the in-between hormone fueled outbursts that I threw in his direction along the way. I don’t know how prepared he was to do those things on February 21st, 2002 when my mom died, but I’d say that well, he did pretty alright 😄
Man though was my dad tough. For instance, he held me to really high standards about my grades. If my grades were much below an A-, he wanted me to study harder. But I didn’t know at the time that he did this because he knew that I was capable of achieving whatever I set my mind to. He would give me hell if I came home past curfew without giving him a heads up. But I didn’t know at the time that he did this because he would stay up panicking and worrying until he knew that I was home safe. And if I did something dumb or careless, he’d be sure that I learned my lesson. Lest we forget the time that I accidentally spilt wet paint on his car seat, and my ‘reward’ was repainting our entire backyard deck. But I didn’t know at the time that all he was trying to do was prepare me for the even harsher punishments of adulthood and how to be resilient to them. And he wanted me to stop doing dumb shit, let’s be real. Man my dad was tough, but he was tough because he loved me.
Then there was the office. After my mom died, I started to slowly but surely help my dad with office work. It started slow, shredding and unstapling papers. Then it turned into me becoming his head receptionist. Then it turned into me being the manager of all the office’s receptionists. By the time I graduated high school, it turned into me becoming his invoice manager. I spent my last few summers of my high school career working almost 40 hours a week so I could save money for college. And I worked every tax season in high school as well. When there was a snow day, while all my friends were sleeping-in, sledding, or just eating shit at home, I was in my dad’s office. The office became virtually my second home.
And during all of that, let me tell you what, having my dad as my boss was no easy feat. I felt horrible if I ever screwed up because I didn’t want to disappoint my dad. But working there brought me a lot closer to my dad. I appreciate all the sacrifices he made for me so he could better my life. I saw more than anyone how hard he worked, how late he’d stay up finishing returns, and how little he complained. He hasn’t lived an easy life because he made the ultimate sacrifice to give me the best life he could give me, and I can’t be anymore greatful.
It’s funny, when I was a teenager I used to write for my local newspaper in their lifestyle’s exclusive youth-contributed section called Unlisted. When I was in eighth grade I wrote a tribute to my dad for Father’s Day that got published all over Western Massachusetts. My dad’s clients brought up the article in their meetings with him, it made us like local celebrities for half a second. When I wrote that tribute for him, I meant every word that I said. However, I had no idea even then just how much of an impact my dad was going to have on my life. As I’m writing this tribute now, about ten years later, I’m just getting all sorts of emotional.
My mom certainly taught me kindness, courage, and strength. But my dad, he’s taught me passion, determination, and hard work. I’m blessed to have come from a home where both my parents looked after me, cared for me, and aspired for me to be the best person I can be.
Growing up, my dad wasn’t perfect, but he was perfectly my dad. And whether I want to admit it or not, I’ll always be daddy’s little girl. I love you dad.