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dad at age 22 in 1968

My dad used to wave at me every morning out of the sun roof of his fire engine red Audi as he pulled out of our Chicago driveway. I was only five or six, so all my memories of that early life in Chicago are tied heavily to color and senses. I remember the red Audi my dad loved, the dark blue Buick LeSabre my mom drove with seats bigger than my daybed, and as soft as any of my stuffed animals. There was the big sloping lawn down to the garden where rhubarb grew with its bright red fingers, that my mom turned into pies that my dad and brother would demolish in less than a day. The wood playset with swings hanging off yellow chains, and our family friend Mr. LaCandia teaching his son Joseph and I how to swing. I even remember the rolled up jean shorts that hung around my knobby knees the first time I actually made that magic leg pumping carry me into the sky, and the white keds that blurred into the clouds as I swung as mightily as any big kid on Balmoral Circle.

I remember my brother’s blue and green plaid room, my white iron bedframe with its delicate swirls and shiny brass knobs so fancy that I was sure I was probably a duchess or princess and my parents were just not telling me to keep me humble.

I also remember the first time I told my dad I hated him.

My mom was out of town, and my brother was at his dad’s house for the weekend. I don’t know what my dad would not let me do, or would not give me. I also don’t know if I knew what those words really meant yet. All I remember is digging deep into my five year old lungs, practically brand new to summoning language at all, and finding those three words to scream tearfully at him.

I don’t remember what happened after that. I do remember not being able to sleep, being kept up for the first time by some nagging adult feeling- a feeling of loneliness, of regret. I perhaps also wanted a glass of water, and there was most likely a terrifying shadow on the wall from the towering trees outside. Whether it was my advanced emotional recognition, or fear of tree monsters, I padded into my parents’ room to see my dad crying on his bed.

My dad is 6’1. My dad can beat up your dad. Well, maybe not. I have never seen my dad throw a punch in his life. He can cut someone down who is particularly vulnerable to cheesy jokes, though. He could carry me almost until I was seven, when I got too tall and gangly and it was brought to my attention that I had been walking successfully for about six years at that point. I was unaware that my dad was a permeable human. I didn’t know he had any more settings than Happy, Really Happy (eating rhubarb pie, The Patriots or Red Sox winning anything), Mad at Me, or Falling Asleep During 60 Minutes.

I didn’t think dads had tear ducts.

I crawled into bed and told Dad I loved him. He forgave me without hesitation. I didn’t want this power to hurt my dad, and at five years old I decided to make sure I wouldn’t ever ever again.

Unfortunately children and parents keep hurting each other, finding new and creative ways to hurl each other’s insecurities at one another. Almost twenty years later, I know that my dad and I have had our rough patches, our screaming matches, our disagreements.

But when that story came back to me yesterday on Father’s Day, I don’t remember what it felt like to actually want to scream that I hated my dad. I remember what it felt like to want to make him feel better, to see him smile when my brother and I cheered after he raced into the garage to stop on a dime about two feet away from the garage wall as Mom would shout “Dennis!”, to see him wave out the sun roof of that Audi.

My dad wasn’t a SuperDad, wasn’t invincible or perfect- he still isn’t. But he remains one of the gentlest people at heart I’ve ever met, teaching me even at five that family is about letting each other in to heal the wounds that we may have caused in the first place.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. You may not be able to carry me on your shoulders anymore, but in a way, you always have been.

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