Friday, June 17, 2011

Dadliness

Update: Kenneth L. Robinson passed away October 1, 2012. I expect to join him in heaven one day, and see him recreated in God’s image—loving, faithful, merciful, compassionate, gentle, and kind, in all the fullness and perfection of eternal life.  

June 2011
This may be the last time I have a father for Father’s Day. My dad is 76 and very ill. At some point, all I'll have will be memories.

My dad was a hero and lifesaver. He was a terrible handyman and car mechanic, but he was a hard worker who supported my brother and me, and my chronically-ill mom, on a middle-class salary. When he was delivering dairy products to a home early one morning, he smelled smoke, broke into the house, got his hair and eyebrows singed by the fire (I remember the smell of his burnt hair), and helped an elderly woman to safety before the firefighters arrived. When my mother had a terrible virus and congestion added to her asthma, and she was choking, he force-fed her one of those killer-hot yellow chilies from the jar in the fridge. It fried the mucous on contact, and she was able to catch a breath and let the oxygen tank do the rest. Dad had AB-positive blood, and I remember numerous times when the blood bank called after 9:00 pm to ask if he could go to the hospital and transfuse blood to save a life. He always did, even when he had to arise before 5 a.m. to go to work.

Dad was loyal. When he gave his support or his promise, it was forever—come hell or high water. He was faithful to his wife and children, to his political party, his church, and his God. When his parents were old, he sent money every month, for years, to help with their expenses.

Dad was good-looking. In the college dorm, I had my father’s portrait in a 5x7” frame on my desk, and friends would ask who my movie-star crush was. Though a few women tried flirting with my dad, he was absolutely faithful to my mother. When I was little, my mom used to sing me to sleep (because Dad couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket) with Gershwin’s “Summertime,” but she’d reverse the lyrics.
Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.
Fish are jumpin’, and the cotton is high.
Your mama’s rich, and your daddy’s good lookin’,
So hush, little baby, don’t you cry.

Dad hated to inflict pain. Mom would spank and slap if we disobeyed or sassed her. She hated being the disciplinarian, and one of the few things they ever argued about (besides home-handyman jobs) was who had to punish the naughty children, and how. If I did something sufficiently egregious that it was Dad’s turn to spank me, he’d take me out to the attached garage and sit down and talk for a few minutes about how he was disappointed in me, then give a couple of halfhearted slaps to my backside that didn’t even hurt—yet I wept much harder and mended my ways better, than if I’d gotten a spanking and lecture from my mother.

Dad was a softie. He always loved our family pets, and had a soft spot in his heart for the ancient farm horse from his childhood. When he went bow-hunting for deer with his friends, I’m pretty sure his arrows came home without DNA, although he had a share in the prize when it was butchered. When I saw a domestic rabbit along the side of a road, he stopped the car and helped me catch it and take it home, and built a fence to let it have the side yard as a rabbit paradise. Cats would settle on Dad’s lap as if it were the finest, softest pillow, magnetized especially for cats. When it was time to euthanize the old and sick pets, he couldn’t do it—I took them to the vet.
My mother's journal entry
on the day after I was born.
She describes my father holding me
for the first time.

Dad was a daddy. When I had bronchitis attacks as a child, he’d set his alarm to get up at oh-dark-thirty to give me my medicine. He let me hang around as he and the neighbor guys would chat over what was needed to make the Renault run; or put me in a frilly party dress to go grocery shopping because he liked to show off his little girl. When we drove around Phoenix in the evening, he would quietly step on the foot button for the high beams and dare me to figure out how he did that. He helped me climb up to the roof to watch lightning or meteor showers; and he built a pretty cool tree house platform with safety rails, and a zipline, in our mulberry tree. Our family and the neighbors would sit out on the porch and watch the desert dust storm followed by the lightning and rain, as if it were the Fourth of July twice a week. He taught me to drive on his restored ’55 Kaiser Manhattan and trusted me to drive it often. I mourned that I'd lose my high school friends as we went separate ways, and Dad comforted me by listening and hugging. When I’d drive back to Phoenix from my California university, he always checked my tires and oil, and filled the radiator, trying to ensure a safe trip for me. 


Dad was a safe haven. When I was two, my parents took me to Disneyland. They told me that if I were to become lost, to sit tight on a bench and wait, no matter how long, until they came for me. We rode the submarine (I was terrified), took the jungle cruise with its surprise hippo emergences (also scary), and we strolled the streets looking at the vendors. I was fascinated by the glass blowers who made knickknack animals, which is where I lost my parents. When I realized I was lost, I spotted a park bench, and sat as instructed. People asked if they could help, or take my tiny self to Lost & Found. But I didn’t budge, and was rewarded moments later when my father found me. I don’t remember his reaction, but even now, I remember the utter relief and the comfort and security of Daddy’s strong arms when he scooped me up and hugged me, and then placed me triumphantly on his shoulders.

Dad was a quiet man. There was no need to fill silences: he said what needed to be said, and was silent when he was done. He had a calm spirit that soothed my mother when her asthma medications made her jumpy.

Dad was funny. We’d go on 2,500-mile car trips to visit grandparents in Minnesota, and he told stories about riding sheep or getting in trouble as a farm kid; he remembered the lyrics to poems and folk ballads (if not the tunes!); if he passed gas it was never the father, and always the dog to blame; and he remembered jokes for years. Here’s one from his homeland:
Two mosquitoes are flying over Minnesota, when they spot their prey below—an unsuspecting fisherman. The first mosquito asks, “Hey, do you think we should eat him here, or take him back to the swamp for later?” The second mosquito, older and wiser, responds, “No, we should eat him here. If we take him back to the swamp, the big mosquitoes will get him!”
Dad was a reader. If it wasn’t the Reader’s Digest magazine in the bathroom, it was the daily newspaper. He always had a history (usually World War I or II) or biography on his night table. His reading tastes were sometimes questionable: Eric Van Daniken's "evidence" for UFO interference over the eons; Velikovsky's apocalyptic "history"; and material written by the founder of the Worldwide Church of God. (My mom did not approve of that stuff!) As a boy, he read the Hardy Boys Mysteries, Black Beauty, and The Call of the Wild.  And gave them to me when I was maybe eight.


Dad loved the arts. He made frames for my mother’s paintings and stretched canvasses for her, then carried them to art shows. Though he couldn’t sing on key, he attended our school and church concerts, and loved to hear me practice my piano lessons, asking to hear specific pieces from Bach, Mozart, or Scott Joplin’s rags. Many times, he would enthusiastically describe Christmas or Easter cantatas, Phoenix Symphony, or the Messiah oratorio that he’d attended.
 
Dad was trustworthy and dependable. I had him as a rock-steady man I could count on to back me up or take my side against the world. I measured potential mates (obviously none of them worked out) against my dad for their real or potential qualities of commitment, honesty, kindness, fidelity, and, you know—Dadliness. 

Dad was strong and healthy. He almost never caught colds or flu, or the latest virus to make the rounds. He gave my brother and me that same immunity.

But for a few years now, my dad has been fighting several major illnesses. This may be the last Father’s Day, or any day, I see him alive, when he flies back to the home he’s shared with his wife for half a decade. After Mom died and Dad remarried, the relationships between Dad and me and my brother have changed dramatically. There are things that cannot be spoken, words that can’t or won’t be retracted, forgiveness that will not be extended. After a recent chain of events, I had to ask if my father still loved me. I had to know, had to hear the words, if these are my last moments or days with him.

He was surprised, and his big, strong hand, with bruises surrounding the IV needle taped to his skin, closed over my arm as I wept. And he said he did love me. This is the Dad I’ll remember, because my dad is trustworthy.

I will tell the promise that the LORD made to me: “You are my daughter, because today I have become your father.” Psalm 2:7 CEV 





editornado's Kenneth Robinson memorial album on Photobucket

8 comments:

  1. Comments from Facebook:

    Pamela...
    This is very touching. I hope you enjoy your Fathers Day very much.

    Evie...
    That is a beautiful tribute Christy. I hope you treasure this time you still have together. I miss my Daddy very much.

    Sharon...
    A moving and precious tribute to your father, Christy!

    Carolina...
    Lovely tribute. I remember the first couple of Father's Days after my dad passed. They were tough. I'd go by a drugstore, a stationer's, or other retailer, all pushing their Father's Day cards & gifts. My first gut impulse would be to look and think "Oh, that'd be great for Dad," but then I'd stop short & remember, oh wait, no, I can't. He's gone. Not easy. Not fun. Yes, cherish these days. They won't last forever.

    Barbara...
    Christy, I loved your tribute to your dad.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Comments from Facebook:

    Portia...
    Sniff, sniff, don't make me SOB!!! You inspire me to take lovely photos like this of the child and her father so she can have it to look back on as you are.

    Gail...
    I like his smile! Hugs to you and your dad and family this Father's Day, Christy.

    Gwynn...
    What a wonderful picture! You are looking great.

    Patti...
    Lovely picture. Thx for sharing.

    Gary...
    Great Picture Christy, You both are lookin great

    Deborah...
    Great picture- keep having those good times! Your essay is a wonderful tribute to your Dad.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Beautifully put, beautifully lived. My heart still aches for my daddy whose life and "daddyhood" were as foundational and loving as your wonderful daddy's is. They are human, imperfect, but such a illustration of what ABBA means. I can't wait to meet the CREATOR of my daddy and spend eternity with both of them. This lifetime is just not long enough friend! Linda Mitchell Luevano

    ReplyDelete
  4. From Facebook:
    Lisa M said...
    Made me cry Christy. He sounds just like my husband...
    But that last part just BROKE my heart. Broke it. You are lucky you have such a treasure of memories. When my father is gone, I'll have just the same as I have now, just ugly rejection and disinterest.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Stephanie M...
    I read the "Dadliness" blog and wept. So sweet and deep, especially when asking your dad if he still loved you while he was in the hospital.. Brought back memories.. Daughters just want to hear their daddy say that he loves them.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Phew Christy, that was an emotional roller coaster! A beautifully written eulogy prepared in readiness for that sad day that is inevitable...:o(

    You have shared lovely memories about your Dad without sentiment and "gushing" adjectives - well done. You are so, so very fortunate to have a father you can look up to and remember fondly; that is something I don't have and I envy you a GREAT DEAL!

    Be strong - some kind of forgiveness and/or acceptance has been expressed - that is enough for you to digest and feast on for the rest of your life. Shalom x

    ReplyDelete
  7. Geanine T:
    Beautiful . Bawling my eyes out. So blessed to be raised by a wonderful man.

    Portia K:
    I am so glad you wrote this. You clearly have your memories of your dad but sometimes it's nice to re-read something that you've already articulated, as a reminder (and honor to your dad). Hugs.

    Jo Ann B:
    What a lovely tribute to a wonderful man, Christy!

    Kris T:
    Very nice tribute to your dad. I am glad you were able to reconcile before his death and that you were able to hear him tell you that he loved you. That is a priceless memory to cherish. Sorry for your loss. God bless you until you meet your father in peace.

    Gary R:
    Words cannot express how sincere is the sympathy and concern that goes to you today.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Harriet B:
    So sorry to hear about your dad....sad times, I know. I went back and reread your blog entry on "Dadliness"...hang on to those sweet memories; they are precious. The few times I saw your dad and you together, I definitely knew, even as a teenager, that he just loved you to pieces, and was the gentle counter-balance to your mom...my dad was the same way...his lap was often my refuge and security! Thinking of you and praying.....

    ReplyDelete

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