Even though I was a full time Mommy’s girl growing up, there were sweet increments of time when Dad would sneak his way into my heart. He had his own love language — and it didn’t involve butterfly kisses. Physical affections, like gentle pats on the back or doting hugs and kisses, were substituted by spontaneous roughhousing, pesky pokes, and playful pinches. My siblings and cousins were also included and amused by Dad’s fun-loving antics.
In Dad’s world, there were no such things as light-hearted compliments or nurturing consolations. He left that job for Mom. Childhood accidents or injuries were always followed by Dad’s firm yet quick-witted quips: “Oh, get up, you’ll live” or “Do it again, I didn’t see you.” It was a unique kind of tough love that always seemed to distract from our pain and disguise Dad’s true emotions of caring or concern.
“You think you’re hot stuff, buddy” was Dad’s notorious catchphrase for: “You did a good job, way to go, you look nice and I am proud of you.” As we grew up and began to understand my Dad’s unorthodox style of doling out compliments, our reaction to him transitioned from eye-rolling sarcasm to genuine acceptance and appreciation. A simple “Thanks, Dad” was all it took to show we understood.
Music brought out the softer, more sensitive side of Dad. If he wasn’t listening to his favorite guitarist, Chet Atkins, he was attempting to mimic Chet Atkin’s unique picking style on his own guitar – and he often succeeded. During my turbulent teen years, all I wanted to do was keep my parents at arm’s length, spend time with my friends, and listen to MY cool music, a la Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson (yes, I grew up in the 80’s). Dad creatively found a way into my heart despite the fact that it was mostly reserved for Mom. He offered to pay me five dollars if I learned to play a few different guitar riffs on my flute; however, the catch was I had to play them by ear. I rose to the challenge, and not only did I earn some cash and my dad’s trademark “You think you’re hot stuff” remark, but I was also rewarded with quality time spent duetting with Dad. Those are moments I still treasure to this day.
After five intense years of battling bladder cancer, Dad decided it was time to stop treatment for what had proven to be an incurable disease. After we left his final appointment with his oncologist, his demeanor was calm and relieved. He offered quiet words of reassurance to Mom: “It’ll be ok. Don’t worry.” It was a surreal yet tender time as we hugged each other through tears and prayed, surrendering to God’s will and timing. Wiping away my tears, I boldly asked, “Hey Dad, can you do me a favor?”
“What?” he calmly replied.
“When you die, can you send me a sign from heaven that you are thinking of me? Send me a Chet Atkins style song and when I hear it, I’ll know it’s you. But it has to be in an unexpected place. Okay?”
It was an oddly specific request, which I think surprised us both. Dad sweetly nodded and grinned. “I’ll see what I can do.”
***To be continued***