In celebration of my father's birthday, belated, of course
Last week my father had a birthday. I called him, belatedly, to see how his week had been. I don't call my father often; we talk to one another through my mother, sometimes through texts, and letters. This is representative of most of our communication throughout my life, notes scribbled on the table, drawings stuck to his office door, reminders like grocery lists, times to pick us up affixed to the fridge, requests to borrow the car or money posted in curious places, the coffee maker, a kitchen cabinet, one of the many discarded reading glasses cases about the house; his responses equally clever, scrawled large and bold in the heavy ink he preferred in my girlhood or worse, light in the pencil with which he figured crossword puzzles.
We used to shout between floors of our various houses before my mother, annoyed at our refusal to change locations would join in, "Can't you talk in the same room?"
I don't mean to suggest we don't talk. We do, but more typically when we aren't doing something else, like on long car rides or when other conversations swirl around us at family gatherings; we huddle and share recommendations for what to read next, quote lines from poems or discuss sports, movies, actors, music. My father is a neverending library; he consumes books the way I drink coffee and he is never without a book lined up to read. I trust his taste in books wholeheartedly, also in footwear. The man has fantastic shoes.
I have lived half my life as Bruce's daughter, both in awe of and embarrassed by him, his booming voice cutting through shrieking slumber party laughter, the entirety of the mall when he was ready to leave, cheering at one of my brother's baseball games, echoing against the walls of the church during Sunday service.
Mesmerized by the photos of him as a boy that hung on my grandmother's walls, I asked for stories constantly, about his favorite toys, why he liked cowboys, how he played, what he read. I pulled his Chronicles of Narnia series from the shelf of his boyhood room and read through them one summer, reveling in his notes and underlines. Like my grandfather, I have never been able to unravel what makes my father who he is. I doubt I ever will.
People love him instantly. He is gregarious, filling up the room with his energy. He never whispers. He is never quiet, never mistaken for someone else. He jokes that he carries the china shop with him, the proverbial bull inside. But besides being a bit careless with his things, barrelling through life at full speed and not always noticing his surroundings (head in book and all), my father is not bullish or cruel, stubborn sometimes yes, but not to a fault. In my recollections, he speaks up for what he thinks is right over concern for reputation or what others think. He taught me to do the same, never admonishing me for sticking up for myself or others on the playground, recognizing my rebellious nature and trying to shape it into something that mattered rather than rebellion for the sake of itself.
I am like my father in many ways, absent-minded, obsessed with big ideas, with change and important thoughts. I can be too serious, go too deeply into myself, miss what is in front of me. I am passionate like him. I laugh quickly and loudly. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I am a terrible liar and I lose my keys once or twice a day. I survive on music and caffeine, conversations and books. Words are my profession and I work hard every single day to find the ones I need for each specific telling of a story, each example I share in class, each connection I make. I learned from both of my parents the power of words; it is most my strongly held belief, and the one that expresses to my father the things I don't know how to tell him like how I appreciate what he taught me about music, that he bought me my first boom-box at a yard sale, that he talked about lyrics and chord progressions, key changes and made me listen to Mozart and Bach and Beethoven and The Beatles and Elton John and Billy Joel. Music has always been significant in my life and I know that began with him. I wish I could take back things that hurt him, words and actions that disappointed him, made him worry, but I know that the scars and secrets bind us together. But mostly, I hope he knows how deeply he is loved, how often I think of him in a day, how many stories begin and end with him, how much of my life has been shaped by being a part of his.
I might not have always admitted it, especially when I felt mortified as a teenager to have a father everyone knew, one who was loud and told you what he thought, but I have always admired my father. I have always been proud to be his first-born, his daughter, his likeness.