Hi, Dad.

by Mara

Last week, I was talking with my sister (who is quickly becoming something of a favorite character both here and on my Twitter) via Skype, when she handed the computer off to our father. I had not talked to him in the previous few weeks, so we caught up. “I read the Yahoo article,” he said. “The comments all seemed positive. People thought you were smart for escaping something you didn’t really like.” “Oh, but they made me sound terrible!” I moaned. “Well,” He said, “it was just some comments out of context from your blog, right?”

He went on, very positive and reassuring, but throughout the rest of the conversation a voice inside my head was screaming, “He’s read your blog! Oh God, no! He’s read your blog!” I like to think my parents keep a healthy ignorance of my life. It’s not as though I get rather obscene here, but it’s still strange to know that my worlds are colliding. There is a part of me that always has and always will worry, “Oh god, what are they going to think?”

It took me back to the time I was eight years old, on a cruise to Alaska, and wondering what would happen if I mixed tea, coffee, iced tea, cream,  hot chocolate, and just about everything else they had at the cafeteria’s coffee bar together. It wasn’t bad, and I started passing the concoction around: being something of a precocious kid, I had a lot of teenage and grown-up friends, and they either honestly liked it or pretended to like it. Secretly, though, I worried: coffee was a grown-up drink and I was sure I would get in trouble for drinking it. When my friends asked if they could have another of my “Magic Mochas,” I shushed them, thinking my dad would hear. (He claimed to be “a little deaf” in one ear thanks to some time in the Navy, yet he always managed to overhear anything that could get me in trouble.) It was only two months after my mother had died, and she had always been the disciplinarian, so I had no idea what my father would think or how he might punish me.

Fortunately, the topic wasn’t even broached until we were back at home several weeks later. He had come to tuck me in, and there in the dark, with my father, my half-Catholic side kicked in and I felt compelled to confess.

“Sometimes I worry that you won’t… that if I do something wrong… I don’t know what you’ll think or do. I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble and you’ll be mad at me or go away or something. There are things I’m scared to tell you.”

“Like what?” He asked. I think he knew that it couldn’t be anything that serious: I wasn’t yet nine years old, and I was generally a well-behaved kid.

“Like… like on the cruise, I made this drink that had coffee in it…” I went on. He listened to me, patiently, then assured me that he had known all along that there was coffee in it, but that I wasn’t in trouble. I felt so relieved, and so lucky. It was something small, but a parent’s exoneration, especially in circumstances like that, is something powerful.

The day after I graduated from college, fueled by minor disagreements, my approaching quarter-life crisis, and six hours in a car together, my father and I got into an argument. Actually, I started it: I’ve inherited my mother’s tendency to speak her mind despite the consequences rather than my father’s tendency to keep the peace. (These days I’m working on finding a balance.) We argued and the next few days I felt the same familiar fear, that maybe one day something I did or said would drive him away. But when it was time to go back to New York, he stood with me on the train platform, gave me a bear hug, and said “I love you just the way you are.”

My father raised five children on his own while managing my film career and working full time at a job that required him to arrive at four in the morning every day. He may seem a bit tough, but that’s because he’s had to be. He is both a gentle man and a gentleman. After years of working as a maintenance and electronics engineer, his hands were rough from taking apart old machines and hauling equipment, but when he came home, if I asked, he would still hold my hand and tickle my palm. My sister might have put it best: “Underneath his plaid exterior is a heart of solid gold.”

And now I know he will read this.

Thus, in addition to the two pounds of decaffeinated Earl Grey tea I’m sending his way, I would like to offer this as a Father’s Day gift: to the man who gave me my light eyes and my high forehead, from whom I get my taste for tea and distaste for cooking, who I’ve caught dancing to REM with my little sister and laughing at Barry and Levon on The State, who took me camping and stargazing, who taught me why we see color in bubbles and the importance of not being a jerk, who signs his text messages “Love, Dad” and calls himself my “number one fan,” thank you. You’re a man of few words, yet you never seem to run out of ways to tell me I’m loved. I hope you know I love you, too.