Somewhere out there, my father is looking down on me today. Or maybe he's right here by my side. Either way, I'm thinking of him and I believe that he can sense my thoughts and love.
Our house was feeling a little bit too chaotic earlier this evening and, recognizing this, my husband encouraged me to take a break and go find some peace and quiet.
I grabbed my laptop computer and a novel, put the keys in the ignition of the truck and turned it on - but I had no real idea of where to go.
I've been tired this afternoon and less decisive than usual, so I decided just to let the car lead. I know that sounds odd, but somehow I knew that it would take me wherever I needed to be.
For about fifteen minutes I wound around various main streets and side streets, toward the oceanfront and then way from it. I passed through areas we haven't really explored yet since moving into this new part of town. Without the kids in the car I was able to notice more of my surroundings and saw a lot of little places I'd like to try out someday - a reasonable looking hair salon, a burger joint, a small corner market.
Finally I looked up and realized that without meaning to, I'd headed to the street where my parents lived together when they were first married in 1974. Amazing to think that was nearly 40 years ago now.
Today would have been my father's 85th birthday, had he lived long enough to see and celebrate it.
It feels important then, to be here on this road overlooking the beach he loved so well - near to the home where he married my mother that sunny December day long ago. They married in their back yard surrounded by their children and dogs, two once-broken romantics daring to believe that *this time* marriage would last.
I'm so glad for them both that it did.
If my dad was sitting here in the truck with me I wonder what he would say about their life in this neighborhood. How did it feel to combine families like that? To become the step-father to two pre-teens? To dive into such a full life after enduring multiple previous heartbreaks?
I imagine that he would tell me, "It was hard… but your mother was worth it, and your brother and sister became my kids too."
I've got an inkling that my parents were happy here on this street, in this neighborhood, because this is the place where my mother fell pregnant with me, completely out of left field. Surprise!
In a way, I've journeyed this evening to a place that was special for my father... and also for me! This is the spot where I first became a twinkle in my mother's eye, so to speak.
That said, it's mainly my fault that my family moved away from this area in 1975.
Five children felt like A LOT of children to my folks at the time, and they were anxious to find a large enough house to accommodate us all. They purchased a four bedroom place just a few beach towns away, where they stayed and built a sturdy life. My mother lives there to this day, still nurturing the trees that they planted together.
I didn't grow up in this neighborhood where my folks lived for the first year of their nearly 35 year marriage… but sitting here now in the truck in the peaceful eventide, I can see why they were so happy here. There are birds singing from tall trees at dusk on a hill overlooking the vast Pacific. It's nice.
I know that my Dad must have felt really proud while living here, like he'd made it and was finally living the California dream. Since his stint in the Navy during World War II and Korea, my father had hoped to return to this beautiful beach town to live and work by the seashore.
It took thirty years and living in three other states to get here but at the age of 49 he had finally done it ~ earned the tenured faculty position at our local University, found the beautiful Hollywood starlet to marry, chosen a home and begun to fully live, surrounded by a cheerful menagerie of loving wife, four children and their many pets.
My dad called himself a late bloomer but actually, now that I'm 35, I think he was a survivor - someone to admire. He'd managed to spring back from a devastating divorce where he'd lost everything including his best friend (who ran off with Dad's wife, so I'm told). After a bitter, protracted struggle he was granted custody of my brothers and ultimately he did his very best as a single dad.
I don't think any of us would argue that his 'best' was perfect, but he loved us and we loved him. We still do. That says something about the kind of man he was.
In the late '60s and early '70s Dad managed to earn his doctorate in music and become a professor, which was truly impressive for someone also working full time as a music teacher to support the two sons that he was raising on his own.
The older I get, the more I appreciate how many fine qualities my father possessed. As a teenager I saw only the things I had problems with, like his paranoia and overprotection of me.
Now that I'm a parent, I feel sad about all of the raging fights I had with him while growing up. "You promised that she would be a comfort to me in my old age," he would gently tease my mother. "How old, exactly, do I have to be?"
Here are some of the MANY amazing things I see now about my father that I did not appreciate twenty years ago. He was...
-Chivalrous to a fault.
-Treated my mother like a queen
-Honest, steady, loyal
-A dependable provider who went the extra mile to take care of us financially, working three jobs for most of my childhood
-A true artist - pursued his dreams and built a life around his deepest love: performing classical music
-Passionate about Prokofiev and Grieg!
-LOVED the beach. Loved boogie boarding, ocean swimming with flippers, collecting shells, bird watching and whale sighting
-The kind of guy who really talking over the merits of European vs. Japanese cars with our local mechanic
-Loved to watch football with the sound off while practicing his violin
-A man of enormous privacy
-Innovative and driven to create
-Funny. He had a tremendous sense of humor, and loved reading humor writing and satire
-A huge fan of Woody Allen, Rodney Dangerfield, Art Buchwald and Ted Koppel
-Cried when Magic Johnson announced he was HIV+. Dad was a huge sports fan. Magic was his hero
-An optimist. He used to tell me that someday our 'ship would come in'... right on the beach in front of our house, loaded with treasure. I now know that my dad himself was the real treasure
-Proud of his children
-Proud of his Nebraska roots
It's not easy to support a large family on a single salary while staying true to your artistic vision. I give my dad so much credit for working as hard as he did. He worked for two universities, gave private lessons on evenings and weekends and most of our summer 'vacations' were road trips to different college towns where he led music workshops. He was a devoted musician and a dedicated provider. Dad took good care of us.
I'm not sure if all of my father's dreams came true before he died. I do believe though that he was happy that he'd married my mother and that he was still adoringly devoted to her until the end, even in the throes of his disease.
We don't choose our parents, and there were honestly a lot of years in my early life where I wondered why my father was old enough to be my grandfather. I longed for a young, strong dad who could teach me how to camp and fish and hike and do things that I had only read about in books.
They say that God doesn't always give us what we want; but somehow we are given what we need. Now that I've grown up, I can see that Dad was the father I needed - someone uniquely capable of understanding me, since I turned out to be so insanely similar to him... from my temperament and hobbies right down to my bony feet!
I thank God every day for giving me such a wonderful father. I remember all of his qualities and know now how lucky I was to have such a complex, brilliant, interesting and artistic parent.
Happy Birthday, Dad. Wherever you are, I love you!