My father was the kind of dad who did not want to be bothered by children when he was trying to relax. My family believed in children being seen and not heard. To my parents, it was not a democracy. They exercised their executive privilege without any pangs of guilt, changing the TV channel in the middle of your favorite show, or eating your leftover sub without your permission.
I often have a feeling that if Dad were here to see the reverence that my husband and I give to our 6-year-old’s wants, needs and opinions, he would most definitely roll his eyes and ask, “Are you serious?”
Another thing I knew about my father was that he was kind. His kindness when it showed itself was a bit disarming, because it came from a source not expected.
I once saw Dad spend his day off building a shelter for a neighborhood cat. I can still remember doing a double-take at my muscle-bound father kneeling on all fours coaxing her into her new home. This was a side of Dad that he did not show to very many people, and it made me feel somewhat privileged to view it.
Some of my more treasured memories of Dad involved his humanity. He disliked anything petty and instilled this in my brother and me. When anyone stopped over, including contractors, roofers or family, my parents always made sure they never left our home hungry.
Dad loved animals and detested liars. Growing up, it was made clear to my brother and me that punishments would always be lighter if we told the truth. To this day, I am the world’s worst liar. I have also inherited my father’s disdain for it.
One of the things I miss most, however, is our private time together. When I was little and had bad dreams, it was my father who got up with me in the middle of the night. Since I was never allowed in my parents bed, my father would take me sleepily and uncomplainingly back to my bed and lay with me until I fell back asleep.
It was during these times that I really got to know Dad beyond his roll as my father. As we lay there together, he would talk to me about the things that scared him when he was little. Although my fertile imagination had a difficult time picturing my big, strong Dad afraid of giant ants and men from Mars, it gave me a glimpse of his fallibility and it was comforting. Some of our best talks happened there at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday.
These talks continued as I grew. As a young adult, no matter what type of conflict I had with my father, we could always talk. Although the subject matter changed, we could often be found debating together, two night owls, while the rest of the house was sleeping.
Now I am a parent and the one my son turns to when he has bad dreams. Like my father, I use this time as a way of connecting with my child.
I tell him about my fears when I was his age, but I also tell him about his grandfather. As we lay there in the darkness, I try to bring to life a grandfather he never knew.
It is at those times on a random Tuesday at 3 a.m. that I can still feel my father’s presence, and the distance between heaven and earth does not seem quite so far.