Whenever anyone meets my dad, I imagine they first notice how handsome he is: the striking blue eyes, jet black hair, and cleft in his chin. But next, I’ll bet they notice his hands. He’s a professional carpenter; he usually has a bruised nail or two, several fresh cuts, various healing wounds and calluses everywhere. The girth of his fingers is three times the size of an average man’s finger. They are the hands of a man who started his working life at the early age of three, milking cows. His attitude toward work crew can appear gruff; he expects them to work hard and do whatever it takes to finish the job without excuses.
Twenty-three years ago, my mom died, and this man’s man was left all alone to raise a fourteen-year-old girl and an eleven-year-old boy. He suddenly had to be Dad and Mom.
It seemed easier at first. I was a rather fearless child and preferred playing with boys, doing boy things like climbing trees, building forts, playing football, baseball and G.I. Joes. I did have a Barbie doll, but she often wore G.I Joe fatigues and went to war with him. I even played on a boy’s ice hockey team. I had a lot of fun and learned many things from these activities. But none of them prepared me for stepping into my womanhood, which had to happen sooner or later.
I especially remember one day when I was about fifteen years old. We were driving down to Georgia to visit my aunt, and for some reason, every single thing my dad and my brother said or did made me crazy! I went from weepy to laughing for no reason, but my overall desire was to be left alone! It was clear they were both perplexed by this Jekyll/Hyde creature in their car.
We’d been taking our time driving and ended up spending the night at a motor lodge along the highway. Once we were in the room, Dad sent my brother out to a soda machine. When we were alone, he asked me what was wrong. There was nothing to do but admit that I’d begun menstruating for the very first time in my life. Then I burst out crying uncontrollably.
The miracle was that somehow, even though no booklet included this piece of information, Dad knew just to hold me and allow me to mourn the loss of my childhood.
He then offered to go to the store fo0r me and buy the items I required.
We both crossed some kind of bridge that day: me into the role of being a mother as well as a father. I think some men fear their feminine side as if being nurturing would take away from their manliness somehow. All my dad knew to do love me unconditionally; not surprisingly, that worked just fine.
When my senior prom rolled around, I found myself in the happy position of dating a boy from a neighboring town; we invited each other to our proms, which were on consecutive nights.
Daddy wanted to make certain I had the perfect dress, and I did. It was a sleeveless, long white eyelet gown with a scoop neck. It made me feel like a princess. And Dad’s approval was obvious; I think he was proud of me for stepping out of my tomboy image and acting the young lady-even if only for a couple of nights.
But what nights they were! Tradition at our school’s prom was to stay out all night with your friends. With our parent’s permission, my date and I “prommed” until 6:30 in the morning. I returned to my home to sleep for a few hours before driving to his parent’s house.
I’ll never forget my amazement that Saturday morning when I awoke and came downstairs to find my beautiful prom gown proudly displayed in protective plastic, like new, ready for another night’s festivities.
It seems that sometime during my sleep, my dad had come into my mom and found my prom gown. He had hand-washed it in a delicate laundry soap, then hand-pressed it.
My dad may not have been a man of many words when he was raising us, but he didn’t really have to be. When I think of those beat-up working man’s callused hands gently washing my delicate prom gown, my heart warms and relives that moment of unconditional love all over again.
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