What My Dad Did

One of those Florida trips, circa 1978.

My dad, who has freckled, Irish skin that burns at just the thought of a summer sun, didn’t love the beach. He usually spent our time at the sandy edge of the continent in the shadow of a colorful umbrella in a shirt, hat, and dark glasses, squinting in the glare of the subtropical sun trying to read a paperback without sweating too much on the pages. He never complained and always seemed content to wait for my mother, my brothers and me to tire of the ocean for the day and to help carry all our sandy detritus back to the car, but he never looked terribly comfortable to me. Yet every year he took us back to the sunshine state to spend his vacation time with my grandparents (his in-laws) on the rim of the Atlantic.

I remember those vacations like a personal, idyllic mythology of big family breakfasts and packing picnic lunches in wicker baskets to take to the beach and coming home hours later to their little bungalow near the sea all damp and sandy and sunburned. It was a week permeated with the smell of Coppertone, the tang of icy lemonade, the rustle of palms trees and scuttle of chameleons in the courtyard, the bright towels perpetually drying on a line in the sun, and always the scratch and heat of sun-scorched skin that my dad was always smart enough to avoid.

It was on the way back from one of those visits, my family packed into our 1972 Mercury land yacht, the air conditioner on high, when I, already heavily dosed with Dramamine, informed my father, who had endured hours at the wheel on the interminable Florida turnpike, that if he lit another cigarette, I was going to vomit on him. Daddy took one look at my pale face and carefully tapped the unlit cigarette in his hand back into the pack. He would smoke when we stopped, he said. And for the rest of the trip, that’s what he did. Later he told me he would no longer smoke in the car on future trips. I was exceedingly grateful, and would have left it at that.

But my mother saw an opportunity. When we arrived home, she took me aside. I’ve been trying to get him to quit for years, she said. But he won’t listen to me. But you’re his little girl. If you ask, he’ll do it.

Every year at school, they showed us a film about the dangers of smoking. In it, a father was sitting on the couch watching TV at night after his family had gone to bed, when he nodded off for a moment and accidentally dropped his cigarette behind the couch. Then he goes to bed, the smoldering cigarette ignites a fire, and the house burns down while the family sleeps and the dog barks frantically from the garage. I don’t remember if they survive. It was really quite a horrifying little film.

Oh that’s good! my mother said when I told her about it. Tell him about that!  I was a little startled by how delighted she seemed at my account of the disturbing film, but I did what she told me and gave Daddy a week to taper down. Then he had to promise me not to touch another cigarette.  He gained 30 pounds over the next couple of years, but he never smoked again.

Daddy and me.

And that’s how I discovered, at ten years old, that my dad would do anything for me. He braved the sweltering heat and swarming mosquitos of June evenings, perched on rickety bleachers, surrounded by other parents who shouted and cussed the coaches or umpire by turns, all because his daughter was playing short stop. When I started jogging and Mom didn’t want me to run at night alone, he ran with me, though for the first few months, it was apparent, he would much rather be home sitting in his chair reading a Robert Ludlum novel. He suffered through beginner band concerts and refereed my soccer games and took me to play tennis even though I had the temper of John McEnroe but none of his talent.

Dad when we were stationed in Key West not long after I was born in 1966.

He had already spent years proving himself a dedicated father before I was old enough to notice. In 1971, when my big brothers and I had all reached school age, my dad gave up his career as an officer in the U.S. Navy and he stepped into civilian life to give us a hometown and a house to grow up in. Then, there were years of working late and on weekends and night school to get his MBA.

Dad, circa 1980.

Since I grew up and moved away, he’s traveled thousands of miles to come visit me where ever I’ve lived and spent half of each visit fixing things. He’s funded house repairs and dental work and dog surgery and many other things my partner and I couldn’t afford. He sent me cards every time he went on a business trip until he retired. And though he’s not a fan of sun and sand, he took us to the beach every year because he knew my mom and brothers and I loved it (and did it again just last year so we could all celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary together).

Dad, the day after he retired in 2009.

I’ve left a lot of stuff out for brevity’s sake but I remember it all, Daddy. Just wanted you to know. Happy Father’s Day. Love, #1 daughter

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18 Comments

  1. what a lovely post. thanks for sharing your memories

    Reply
  2. A beautiful post for Father’s Day!

    Reply
  3. S Foy

     /  June 17, 2012

    Growing up in Winthrop your dad must have viewed the beach, sand and sun as a fact of life. He is probably glad to have upgraded to southern beaches where the water temperature doesn’t make your bones ache! This is another lovely post. Happy Father’s Day Uncle Chuck!

    Reply
    • You know, I tend to forget that he grew up a stone’s throw from the beach. I don’t know how ya’ll swim in water that cold! I like my ocean over eighty.

      Reply
  4. What a lovely tribute! Thanks for sharing such wonderful times. Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there!

    Reply
  5. Ah, loved this. I’ve just come back from the beach and I can relate a little to his perch under the umbrella. He sounds like a really super dad.

    Reply
  6. How absolutely beautiful!

    Reply
  7. He sounds like a great guy!

    Reply
  8. Nice post! I can identify with the feel and sights & smells of a beach trip. My wife also has Irish skin, and I always said the same thing: Do not even THINK about the sun. I love the shot of your dad after retiring. That’s how it should always be.

    Reply
  9. Beautifully done! He sounds like a wonderful man and an amazing Dad. Thank you for sharing your fond memories. 🙂

    Reply
  10. Very nice, I have been trying to find a poem I wrote years ago for my dad, whose birthday and fathers day often coincide. I never found it-too late to write for fathers day, per se- but every day of memories of a great dad are worth telling. You have a great dad!

    Reply

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