It’s been almost a year since I last hugged my dad.
I know I’m not special in this regard. I know that so many people have lost so much more. I feel lucky that my dad loves to talk on the phone and FaceTime with his grandkids. I am relieved that he is safe in rural Oregon, away from the germs of my children and the crowds of the big city and the Covid spikes that have happened around the country. I am glad that he doesn’t mind solitude.
I usually call him as I’m making dinner. It’s one of my favorite times of day now. It’s funny – I used to dread making dinner. I had almost no appetite that first year after Shawn died, and I simply made food that the kids would eat. Tommy often hung on my leg as I did it (remember, he was still in preschool then!) and my dad would try and distract him long enough for me to finish. Sometimes we laugh remembering that time, even though it was also such a horrible time for me. We were both just trying to make it work.
But now the kids are older, and Covid means that I can’t ever go out to dinner. So I’ve started to really cook, and I look forward to that time when I start dinner because it signals the end of the day. It’s often when I talk to my dad, as well.
If I’m feeling down or just simply tired, I know that my dad will cheer me up. That’s one of his superpowers.
The other day, I called him and he answered the phone wearing a winter hat. “Are you inside?” I asked him after I realized that he was sitting on his couch. “Yep!” he said, smiling.
“Why are you wearing a hat?” I asked.
“Well, it’s cold,” he said. “I only heat the house to 50 in the winter. It saves energy. Usually, it’s pretty mild here, but today is cold. So I need the hat.”
I laughed at him. “Dad!” I said, “why don’t you just turn up the heat like a normal person?”
“Why heat the house when I can wear a hat?” he said, more a statement than a question.
He was not trying to be ridiculous, though I kept laughing as he described the way he was keeping warm while reading his book. Let me be clear here – my dad can afford to heat his house. He just doesn’t see the point when it’s just him living there, and he can put on a hat to stay warm.
It’s such a part of who my father is. He doesn’t need much to be happy. Maybe it comes from being the fourth of five children, or from being married to someone who suffered from depression, or from raising two teenage girls partially on his own. Maybe it comes from being a doctor, and seeing so much pain in the world. Maybe it comes from knowing that life can change in an instant.
My dad can see and empathize with real hardship – that’s why he came and lived with us when Shawn died. He knew that what I was going through was crushing, since he’d lived it himself. He didn’t want me to have to face it alone.
It was the single most important thing anyone did for me after Shawn died.
And it was hard. I knew that it wasn’t easy on him, and that some days he was so tired that he’d go to bed before the kids. I knew that parenting was exhausting at age 38, so certainly it must have been bone-crushingly hard for a 70+ year-old. I’d mention it sometimes – how hard it must be for him to parent young kids – and he’d always say, “you’re doing the hard stuff, Marjorie,” as though he wasn’t doing it too.
He simply kept doing what needed to be done for months – and then for years. He made school lunches and carried milk home from the grocery store and read to Tommy while I made dinner. Over and over and over again.
Now, I suppose, things are simpler for him. But his persevering nature remains, and when I spoke to him that cold winter day, I could see the same stubbornness in him. I guess it’s the same spirit that enabled him to be a parent again at age 70.
My dad is no stranger to the roadblocks of life. He sees the problems that exist around him and rather than sit back and complain, he puts on a hat and gets to work. It’s a spirit I admire. Even if he does look a bit ridiculous wearing a hat indoors.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.