A (True) Fairy Tale for Father’s Day

20140615-161443-58483346.jpg
Once upon a time, say around 1981, there lived a little girl in a big gray house in a magical land called New Jersey. It was wintertime and the big gray house wore a white cape of snow. The gardens around the house and all the flying and creeping things that lived in them slept, waiting for the warmth of spring to return. One day, the little girl got very sick. Her mother brought her to the doctor who said she had Scarlet Fever.

That night, when the little girl was all tucked into bed and the whole house was asleep, the little girl woke up and started to scream. There was a giant bee easily the size of her twin bed hovering over her, ready to snatch her away. Her mother came running and turned on the lights to show her that the bee wasn’t real but the little girl could still see it hiding behind the bedroom door. Her mother turned on the nightlight in her room and gave her some baby aspirin to make her fever go down. She promised the little girl that the bee would go away when her fever went down and she tucked the little girl under the covers and went back to bed.

But the giant bee hadn’t left. It came back and landed on the wall right next to her bed. It buzzed as it crawled closer and closer to her head and she started to scream again. This time, her daddy came. He didn’t turn on the bright lights. Instead, he asked her where the bee was and she pointed. He pulled the covers up over her head and told her to stay there until he got back. When he came back, he was armed with a fly swatter and a can of bug spray, specially formulated for giant bees. He opened the window and the storm window, letting in a blast of cold winter wind. Because he couldn’t see the giant bee, the little girl peeked her head out of the covers and told him where it was. Armed with his fly swatter and the can of bug spray, he swatted and slashed and sprayed and chased the huge winged monster out the window. He quickly shut the window and drew the shade. Then while he was still armed, he picked her up and together they checked under the bed, in the closet, behind the door, and under the desk to make there weren’t any other giant bees hiding anywhere. With the monster bee gone, he tucked the little girl back into bed and sat at the foot of her bed to keep watch until morning.

Or at least until she fell safely asleep.

Yeah that was me. Dad came to my rescue chasing off the horrific fever-induced hallucination that only I could see. My heroic knight didn’t come in shining armor but in plaid flannel, armed not with sword and shield but a fly swatter and a can of Aqua Net hairspray that he told me was bug spray, specially formulated for giant bees. And of course I believed him.

Mom was the one who patiently nursed me back to health over the next three weeks. Dad was the one who kept the monsters at bay at night. He checked my room, armed with his ‘bug spray, specially formulated for giant bees’ for almost a month, until I was convinced that the giant bee was too afraid of him to come back.

Dad’s greatest gift to me was the way he could see the world through my eyes, even when I saw stuff that wasn’t really there. He also taught me how to tell a good story. Thanks Dad.

Stuff My Dad Taught Me

20130614-213627.jpg

I could spend this weekend trying to avoid Father’s Day. I’d actually gotten quite good at avoiding it over the years. Seems kind of stupid really. After all the good times we had, why would I try not to remember? (She types bravely with a tissues close at hand.) I was looking at some of my favorite old pictures and ran across this one. I was 11 and we were in Kansas City then. I still remember that Christmas Eve. It was cold, as in 15 degrees below zero cold and that was actual temperature. Cold, as in we got to church for Midnight Mass and the water in the baptismal font was frozen. I don’t mean it had a thin crust of ice on top. It was frozen into one big solid block or as Dad put it, “Holy ice cube, Batman!”

That was also the year that the RA first acted up although the doctors wouldn’t find it for another 26 years. In that picture, he’s got my hand completely wrapped up in his because mine were so cold, they’d turned white. He said he could feel the cold on the other hand right through his flannel shirt. Everything hurt that night. When Mass was over, my knees and ankles hurt so bad, I could hardly walk. Dad left Mom and I in the church while he brought the car around. He carried me to car, stopping to let me swipe my fingers across the the holy ice cube on the way out. When we got home, he carried me inside and he sat on the couch next to me holding my ankles in his hands because the warmth made them feel better. It’s funny looking back, I don’t remember anything I got for Christmas that year or for my birthday a few months later. What I remember was his tenderness and his mischievous sense of humor. I hear that same sense of humor from Eugene on a regular basis and Andrew inherited that big heart of his. I can only imagine how much fun they would’ve had with their grandpa, and how much trouble they would’ve caused together.

So instead of avoiding Father’s Day, and with only a little sniffling, here are a few of the things Dad taught me in the 14 years I had him and the things I try to pass on to my boys.

Practical jokes break up the monotony of life. They require forethought and careful planning. Some also require an escape plan.
(He had his car keys in his pocket, ready to roll and flipped the ceiling fan on high over the receipts Mom was carefully sorting for tax time. It looked like snow. She yelled and we ran like hell. We spent the rest of the day at the mall. He cooked her favorite dinner later to make up for it.)

Read. Read everything. Read it over and over. Read until you can recite it. Reading is knowledge and one of the greatest joys in life.

Reach for the books on the higher bookshelves. Teach your kids to do the same.

When you read to a kid, use THE VOICES. Yeah, you know which ones.

Beauty is everywhere, even in the ugliness. You only have to open your eyes and see it.

Never pass up a chance to do something kind for someone. It’s the little things in life that mean the most.
(He used to bring my mom two cups of coffee in bed every morning on a pretty little tray he’d bought for her on one of his trips to Belgium.)

Knowing all the constellations is wonderful, but sometimes you just need to look up at the stars in awe.

Whenever you have the chance to take in a scenic vista, do it. Stop. Get out of the car and breathe in the view. You may never pass that way again.
(I mean this quite literally. On the way from Connecticut to Indiana, we stopped at Niagara Falls. He talked me into going on the Maid of the Mist and I still remember breathing in the spray. I’ve never been back.)

Learn the names of the wildflowers. Leave them where God planted them.
(He taught me that one only after I had picked a big handful of bloodroot. Yuck!!)

Take the time to look at the flowers. They may wilt by tomorrow.

Learn the names of the birds in the back yard. Sing back to them.
(I have lovely conversations with the mourning dove who lives in the tree behind my garage. The neighbors think I’m a wee bit odd.)

Catching bugs is fun, so long as you let them go.

Wild animals are meant to be wild, not caged. Predators aren’t cruel. They only hunt for food and they are part of the balance in nature.
(Beauty in the ugliness. I’ve developed a particular fondness for the osprey that hunts in the Stratford Marsh.)

Praying isn’t something to do in church on Sunday. It’s as all day, every day conversation.

Learn to be quiet. That’s when you hear God.
(Dad’s habit of a 5 AM coffee on the back porch makes more sense to me with every passing year.)

Read the Bible. Read it so much you know whole passages by heart. Someday, you’ll need those words when the book isn’t close by.

Never quote the Bible to score points in an argument. Using God’s words to win man’s arguments is the utmost sign of ignorance and arrogance.

Sometimes life gets so absurd, all we can do is laugh. And that’s okay. God has a sense of humor, so should we.

Sing. God gave you that voice and it’s beautiful to Him.
(Either that or God is deaf, I haven’t quite decided that one for myself yet.)

Bad stuff happens in life. It’s not God’s fault. Someday we’ll understand why.

Death is part of life. It’s not goodbye. It’s see you later.