When my sister and I were little girls, my parents would take us to amusement parks for summer fun. Mostly, we loved the ride with the little cars, trucks, and planes that went round and round and up and down. Inside the vehicles there were small red buttons, and when pushed, they’d send out a loud “beep, beep” or “buzz, buzz” sound. While we rode, my parents stood on the perimeter, and every single time we rounded the curve and approached them, my sister and I would press our red buttons and wave frantically. And every single time, my dad would make silly faces at us or fall to the ground, pretending to be shot by our invisible beeping and buzzing lasers. This would inevitably send my sister and I into fits of giggles as we positioned our fingers to do it again in 2.5 seconds. My dad never quit, and when we’d hop off the ride full of energy, he’d run with us to the next line, laughing all the way.
In elementary and middle school, my dad coached my basketball and soccer teams, and he might as well have coached my high school teams too because he was always along the sidelines cheering me on. He wasn’t one of those embarrassing dads who yelled a lot or disagreed with the ref, though. Rather, he was the life of the party, making jokes with my coaches, and lifting up my teammates. He was one of the only parents who came to the “away” games, and as I’d sprint past him, he’d holler, “Get ‘em, Ker!” My friends were constantly telling me how “cool” my dad was, and inside, my heart soared.
Growing up, we went to the beach every summer for family vacation. When we were young, the sand and seashells were entertaining enough, but as we approached the “too cool” high school years, that kind of simplicity just didn’t cut it. One year, my dad bought a water balloon launcher and taught us how to launch balloons off our balcony onto the rooftops of other beach homes. Looking back, it was probably extremely unsafe and irresponsible, but oh how we loved it when that balloon would smash onto a rooftop down the block. When the other grown-ups shook their heads in disgust, it was my dad who yelled, “YEAH! WOO!” as he high-fived the launcher.
As I moved into adulthood, my dad moved right along with me, remaining my biggest fan. On my wedding day, he went to the salon with my bridesmaids and me. Let me say that again: HE WENT TO THE SALON. Not because my mom roped him into it, but because he wanted to be there with his baby girl on the most important day of her life. He gave me a card that day, and in it he wrote about how much he valued our father-daughter relationship. He wrote, “Your happiness means everything to me,” and we wept over the card together.
The greatest day of my dad’s life was when he became a grandfather (“Poppy”). The week he spent out in Colorado with us after my son Calvin was born, he began to relive his days as a young father only this time from a new vantage point. Day after day, my dad would sit in our loft, Calvin’s tiny body swaddled in his lap. When my dad wasn’t watching Calvin sleep, making up sweet songs for him, or demanding to take over diaper changes, he was making nutritious lunches and running errands for us. When I went through the post-partum emotions and nursing difficulties, my dad told me over and over again how proud he was. “You’re a great mother, Ker,” he said, and he meant it with every ounce of his soul.
Today, I know that I am a great mother largely because of what my father taught me about parenting: Be in the moment WITH your children. Read with them, laugh with them, play with them, and live with them. It sounds so simple, but I’m still working on ways to put it into practice as genuinely and naturally as my dad was able to do. It’s the small things – Calvin’s amazement over an ant crawling on the sidewalk, his desire to chase a dandelion puff blowing in the breeze, or when he says, “Yay, Mommy!” as we pull into the garage after a bike ride – that remind me to be fully present.
Last year, a few weeks after Father’s Day, my dad passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. My husband, Calvin, and I, along with my sister and brother-in-law, were lucky enough to be able to live with him during the last few months of his life; each of us can bear witness to the fact that my dad continued, even while facing his worst fears, to exude all that made him an amazing person and father. His greatest joy as well as his greatest gift was being present with us every day of his life, and for that, I will be forever grateful.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
– Keri, Who’s Shee?