Like Father Like Daughter

I write so much about my mother and grandmother- these women who have shaped and continue to shape me. But what about my dad?

I remember dancing with him in our family room. It was during a birthday party. I think it was my own, but this detail feels inconsequential. The ceiling had transformed into an upside-down garden; balloons cling to the ceiling like planted bulbs with their plastic stems reaching out to me. Or maybe these were their roots and I am unable to see their blossoms.

I swim through the strings alone. A soundtrack to a movie I constantly had on repeat in my CD player filling the background noise; vibrating notes of nostalgia and longing and intrigue fill me still.

My dad appears in my memory softly, like a ghost from a fairytale- hazy and gentle. He sweeps me up into the air with the ease a gentle giant would lift a flightless bird with. How fondly I remember being so small and insignificant that the world decided to leave me alone and untouched for the time being. Maybe it didn't know I was there yet.

I think I had my heart broken by a boy who told me he loved me on our third date. No. If I'm going to attend history, I might as well be accurate about it- thank you Camonghne Felix. I had broken my own heart- I led myself on. My dad gave me money earlier that day in our kitchen while he helped my mother make dinner. My baby girl shouldn't have to pay for her own dinner on Valentines' Day, he said after telling me how beautiful I looked. I'd dressed up for a boy who (figuratively speaking) held me under water until I was convinced I could breathe it like air. I thought the undertow was my own body swaying to a distant familiar rhythm.

I came home later that night soaked from the rain, still in the pretty dress my mom bought me on a whim and in the denim jacket I'd stollen from my little brother. My eyes were raw and my throat hoarse from the drive home. I don't remember my dad appearing, but again he was there like a ghost and he held me while I cried and cried and cried over a phantom pain.

A few days later my dad commented on the movie I'd decided to put on after I had run out of energy to cry- Miyazaki's Spirited Away. A story where specters swam through their own reality; a movie colorful and jazzy in tone. The absurdity that I found comforting, my dad found unsettling. After I'd finally fallen asleep that night, my dad was left to watch my dreams play out on the television I'd left on.

I don't want to speak for him, but I think my dad is scared of getting old. But what my dad doesn't realize is that he's the fairytales I keep tucked in my closet. He's the unconscious little bit of magic that creates impossible things at the click of a mouse, he's a hypnotist telling people how to feel just from the colors he chooses to put in front of you.

It's this attention to detail that I think really helped show me why the world, my world, is so beautiful.

Chelsea Hodson says: Don't you know you can't trust a writer? She'll see a cigarette and call it a house fire. She'll take a suggestion and turn it into a crime scene. She'll wrap you up in caution tape. She'll write you down. I agree, writers' have sharpened quills, and I often fear the way I can tear myself to pieces. I can drag myself over the shards of sentences I leave behind. But my dad's work and art reminds me that it's this same embellishment of minute design that can show me the beauty in these things. Give me a cigarette and I may call it a house fire, but I may call it a star- living and breathing with us.

We used to (and I may be misremembering this too- this might have only happened once but I regard this memory like a bedtime story), we used to look at these thick advertisement books. Pages of award-winning designs and siren songs calling consumers to linger on the page longer than they might for the next detergent brand. My dad pointed out the font choice, the way this one looked with that one and how things were arranged on the page. We reveled at the creativity of some ad men, the way they took a brand, a product, a symbol and launched it into space to unlock new universes of potential energy.

I also have a little children's book tucked between The Seagull and The Argonauts on my dresser that we used to read. The Best Little Monkeys in the World, complete with two little monkey children sitting on a branch on the cover that's been torn away from its spine. Whenever we'd look at the book together, he'd point out the little things I hadn't noticed- the babysitter monkey lounging on the couch with a phone in the background, a little parrot staring at the monkey's unattended overflowing bathtub with wide eyes.

You always notice those little things, my best friend told me once after I'd commented on the careful connections in costuming of a new movie we'd just returned from seeing.

Why do you like my freckles so much, a man asked me as I traced the curves of his ear with my finger like I was following a map back home.

I can see the whole thing in my head, like a movie, he later said when I recalled a dark hike down the backside of a mountain complete with howling coyotes, "NO TRESPASSING" signs, a sprained ankle and a lack of cell service.

As much as my dad probably wouldn't like to admit, I think he's the one who taught me to trust. This trait has gotten me into some hot water at times, but in turn has taught me the careful balance between caution and courage.

When we'd go to the beach when I was young, my dad would lie on his back in the water and float beside me when my feet could touch the bottom. I didn't like not having control of myself in the water- when we'd go out to the bigger waves I would only do so when he was there to grab me if it got too rough or I got too tired of treading water. But eventually I followed him and leaned back into the waves so that my ears were under the water and I could hear my heartbeat and my breath. I eventually closed my eyes, both of us floating with our faces toward the sun. Sometimes when I'd go to bed at night I could still feel the way the current moved me gently and cradled me.

I want to repeat that my dad doesn't realize he's the little bit of magic in the world. And possibly even more important than that, he's the little bit of genuine humility left to aspire to.




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