They say a daughter’s relationship with her father influences all future relationships she will have with men. If that’s truly the case then I’m a lucky girl. My Dad and I were close from the beginning. I’ve never questioned his love for me and have always been confident of his support. My father however, does not suffer fools gladly and though there may be pictures of post work dancing with his “little pink”, my tiny newborn body supported from hand to elbow, he was far from a pushover. His love for me might have been unconditional, but you didn’t earn his respect without merit.
When I was young my Dad called me the midget because I was small and over time it morphed into the name he calls me to this day, Midgey. I love my Dad. I look up to him. I respect him and admire his journey. He’s a survivor, my Dad. He thrives in a challenge. From the death of his hero and father at 25, his beloved mother’s stroke 7 months later, finding himself without parents and saddled with their vast unpaid debts at 26, he not only rose above his circumstances – putting himself through law school and his sister through University – he thrived. Married at 27, my Dad became a man who was not only successful, but respected and well liked, and he offered my mother and I a wonderful life to be proud of. In my memories he always had time for me. I never felt marginalized or had to question whether he wished he’d had more children or that I was a boy. My Dad and I enjoyed each other’s company. We had our jokes and our songs – John Fogerty’s Centerfield, Willie Nelson’s Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain - and he treated me like a person who’s opinions mattered. In my family my voice was always heard. I had value in my father’s eyes. Yes, he pushed me but, even frustrated, I was grateful. My father’s inability to accept anything less than 100% pushed me to be better and so much of who I am I credit to the lessons I learned while biting my tongue.
My Dad was one of those guys – captain of the football team, track star, scholarship recipient, president of his fraternity and law school. He was a Winner and he expected nothing less from his only child. My Dad was also a good time guy, a loyal friend and in his youth, a wild partier who never failed to entertain me with stories of his past. It didn’t occur to me till later that those stories that delighted me so much over the years were most likely the source of my father’s biggest issues and the reason he had to quit drinking when I was five. In heindsight, it also explains why my mother never found the stories quite as entertaining as I did. 1960′s ridiculousness is probably more thrilling in theory than practice. But it was those stories, those things no one could possibly get away with today – what with the internet and background checks – that made him so awesome. My Dad was a risk taker. A balls out take no prisoners type of guy. He had fun. He was cool. He lived. Some of my favorite tales revolved around the Hospitality Inn, a resort my Dad was hired to run for two summers in his early 20′s. Qualified or not, he staffed the entire place with his friends. He was the boss and made the resort his own personal Dirty Dancing. There were tales of tightrope walking over the tennis courts, women throwing themselves into moving convertibles and an overweight teenager falling through the ceiling of a room while she eavesdropped Porky’s style on her crush getting frisky with a waitress. My Dad wasn’t just some dull, old lawyer. He had a life. He was the twist champion of Vermont. He’d owned every cool vintage car you could think of. He’d painted flames on his mother’s Cadillac and picked up his prom date on a scooter after he overheard her telling her friends she was only going with him because he had a caddy. He may be a responsible Dad now but back in the day he was The Man.
When I was little Saturdays were for me and my Dad. He said it was because my mom had me all week. Now that I’m a mom I see what a raw deal she got. I overlooked all her work and thought my Dad giving me that one day was God’s gift. But, I suppose in those days, it kind of was. At any rate, Saturday’s were for us. We’d play sports – baseball, football, track (soccer wasn’t big then like it is now) – and then go to lunch at a restaurant. My Dad was a foodie before that was a thing. Years later he was devastated when I moved from NYC to LA. Not so much because of the increased distance between us (“It’s still just a plane ride Leigh.”) but because he was going to miss the restaurants. It’s ironic that before my mother my Dad never traveled because he always seemed so international to me. I never had typical kid food when we went out. Nowadays making sure your child is exposed to different cultures seems commonplace – I know a lot of kids who’s favorite food is sushi – but at the time, having dim sum with your 7-year-old was kind of a big deal.
I remember my Dad being at all my plays and swim meets. I remember him coaching me in track before I hit high school and realized my skill level was so incredibly average I should stick to racing in the water. He always drove me to camp and took 3 weeks off in the summer to be with us at the cottage. My Dad took us on trips every year and made sure I knew how to ski and play tennis. Again, the fact that my mother spearheaded most of that was lost on me and when I was 13-15 and everything she said bugged me, the only person I could talk to without rolling my eyes was him. The sun rose and set on my Daddy. I can still picture him on Sunday afternoons, after church and donuts – apple fritter for him, hawaiian rainbow sprinkles for me – listening to Leonard Cohen and sitting in the wing chair reading the paper. It’s from that chair he would take a red pen to my essays or quiz me for exams. My Dad was a fixture in my life that I could always rely on no matter how busy he was.
It’s an interesting thing to get to know your parents as an adult. When I was a teenager I remember becoming aware of little things my Dad did like never clearing the table or doing the dishes at the cottage and calling him out on it. My mother was publicly horrified but secretly thrilled and my Dad always turned out to be very amenable to making a change. To this day he grumbles or sheepishly looks at me when I point things out, but he’s certainly not afraid of improvement. Old dog new tricks is not my father and I’ve always admired him for that.
For all his struggles, his upbringing, his disappointments, his personal demons, my Dad is a man of top quality. He’s a loving, kind, good person and I’ve never doubted his devotion to me or my family. My Dad has given his life attempting to provide the best for us and though we’ve taken some blows, he’s never stopped trying to make things happen.
To this day my Dad is still the person I look to in a crisis. Even in the midst of chaos he’s able to think clearly. He’s a thoughtful and nearly unflappable man of character who’s able to steer me in the right direction without being overly dramatic (my mother), overly optimistic (my husband) or overly supportive (some of my friends). He’s able to dissect a problem piece by piece and see an issue without the cloud of emotion which bogs me down. My Dad can share a life experience in order to make a point but has mastered the art stepping back and allowing me to arrive at my own conclusions. He can tell me how it is without telling me what to do and it’s a gift. My mom’s my best friend, but in a crisis, I’m going to my Dad. His life has garnered wisdom and insight that I’ve found instrumental. This is not to say he’s perfect, he’s the first person to tell you he’s not, but he’s a real man, a noble man, a good man with a generous heart and I need him just as much today as I did when I was his little pink.
My Dad has also never second guessed my decisions. Questioned them maybe, in order for me to better think things through, but always supported me whole heartedly after the decision was made. Going to grad school, dropping out of grad school, moving to New York, living as a struggling actress, moving to LA, picking my husband, becoming a writer, my life has always been mine. He’s been my safety net both emotionally and, at numerous times, financially but he’s set down very few requirements or expectations for the bigger picture. He believes in me. He believes I’ll choose correctly. His faith in me has always reinforced my faith in myself. He’s had my back at every cross road. He’s served as my foundation, supporting me as I weather the storms. At the end of the day my Dad is still my hero. For all our ups and downs, I look at him and see a man I admire, respect and will forever continue to root for.
If my father never makes it as far as he dreamed, I will carry the banner on his behalf. Even without the blinders of childhood, with full adult awareness of his faults and mistakes, I still work every day to impress my Dad. I still crave his respect and approval because whenever I get it, I know I’ve done something truly worthwhile.
I love you Dad. You are a remarkable man and a testament to never giving up. Just as you say with your beloved Maple Leafs, “it ain’t over till it’s over”. You still have so much more life to live and I stand with you as you work each day to make things better. Thank you for being such a devoted father, supportive father-in-law and extraordinary grandfather. You are important and special and I admire you so much for never ceasing to grow. I’m proud of you Dad. I’m proud to be your child and I look forward to the day I make good on the potential you’ve always seen in me.
You are my champion and I will, now and forever, always be your girl.
Happy Father’s Day.