It is Father’s Day this weekend. And I am lucky enough to have a wonderful father.
For anyone who’s going, “WAIT, WHAT IS HAPPENING, I CAME HERE TO READ A QUICK AND SNAPPY THING ABOUT FATHERS, PREFERABLY WITH ILLUSTRATIONS AND POSSIBLY IN A LIST FORMAT,” do not read this. It is too long. It is not a long essay, but it is not a Buzz feed list of Crazy Things All Fathers Do!
This is an essay about my dad that I wrote in early 2007, pre-baby, pre-husband. I wrote it back when I was waitressing in downtown Manhattan and would sometimes call my father on days I wasn’t working and meet him for lunch near his office in Brooklyn. I revisited it because obviously you think a lot more about your parents once you are a parent yourself.
This essay never really had a title because I could never really think of anything short and interesting to call it. It is saved in my documents as DAD BRIDGE WALK.
* * *
“DAD BRIDGE WALK” (2007)
I ask my father if he’d like to meet for lunch and he asks if I am “attached to lunch.”
“Thursdays I try to walk,” he says. “Over the Manhattan Bridge and then back over the Brooklyn Bridge. It takes me about an hour and twenty minutes.” He says this very factually—straightforward. This is what I am doing.
“But I would loooove,” he says, “to have you with me. I can think of nothing that would make me happier.”
My father says “loooove” with the same fluctuating voice Steve Martin used when saying he was a “Wiiild and Craaazy guy.” He would loooove to have me join him. We will have a wiiiild and craaaazy time. And he will buy me lunch, he tells me, when we’ve finished walking.
”You don’t need to buy me lunch,” I tell him.
“I don’t need to,” he says softly. “But if you were the father and I were the daughter, you’d do it for me, right?”
He says this a lot, this “if you were the father and I were the daughter” phrase, as if he is anticipating a magical switch of some sort that I have not anticipated. And he grins and I say “right!” like I always do when he says this, anxious that the day may come when we switch places and I will not be able to measure up.
* * *
I realize as we begin our trek that the temperature of the wind (while walking over a bridge in the middle of winter) is somewhere between the Siberian Tundra and my ex-landlord’s heart. It is painful and I have forgotten to bring gloves.
My father is walking ahead of me in his khaki coat that does not seem particularly warm, but must have a lining of some sort that I cannot see. He has a grey wool scarf and black gloves and looks very tidy and thoughtful, looking out over the water. He does this every Thursday. The wind is always stronger over the water and his short brown and grey hairs are blowing to the side, at right angles to where they usually fall.
“Take my gloves,” he says, talking loudly so we can hear each other over the N train, which (like us) is venturing slowly over the bridge in the freezing cold. “I saw you doing that thing with your sweater,” he says, “and I could tell your hands were cold. They’re good gloves. Use them.”
And I want to not take them, because his hands will be cold. Because he was smart enough to remember to bring gloves and it isn’t fair that I should get to wear them, but my hands are too cold to turn him away.”
“Thank you,” I say, putting them on.
“That’s what fathers are for,” he says. “I brought a hat, if you want one.”
“I’m wearing a hat,” I point out. My father looks at my head and nods.
“You are,” he says—an updated observance. “If you want another hat, I brought one.” He gestures to his pocket, where the black hat protrudes like a woolen tongue.
“I think I’ll be ok with just one hat,” I tell him.
The wind blows against us until the side of my face is numb and my father moves to try and block the majority of the wind. He used to be much bigger than I was but the gap has narrowed– he has only three inches on me– I am 5’9″ and he is six feet. He explains that one side of our face will become numb going over the Manhattan Bridge and the other side will become numb walking back over the Brooklyn. He says this like it is an exciting science experiment that I can look forward to and then proceeds to talk at length about early Manhattan and the Dutch and the Irish and how the city worked its way up the island, with a short interlude about the young Theodore Roosevelt and his house on Twentieth Street.
“How are your finances?” he asks, once we are safely over the Manhattan bridge and are no longer competing with the N train’s cries. “Was January as bad as you thought?”
“It was,” I say. “Restaurants are slow in January in general, but I have enough of a cushion to fall back on. There were some books I wanted and I’ll probably let myself buy them.”
My father reaches for his wallet and I get upset. A parent giving me money is always slightly upsetting because they will sometimes preface it with, “Do you need money?”
And I always want money (it is so hard not to want it), but I don’t want money from them. I want money to materialize from another entity– for Diana Ross or Steven Speilberg or the widow of some long-dead oil baron to knock on the door to my apartment, handing me a hundred thousand dollars and walking away without a word. I want the government to mail me a check for forty grand with a note saying, “This a not a mistake. We know January is a slow month for Restaurants and you’ve earned this. Keep up the good work. Love, the government.” I want to wake up with a pile of $20’s under my pillow and hope it was the tooth fairy, deciding I needed to be further compensated for the fine quality of my incisors. But my father shook his head.
“I’ve had this in my wallet since December,” he said. He handed me a $50 gift card to a bookstore. “I got two for Christmas and I spent some of the other one. I haven’t had anything so pressing that I needed to spend this one yet, so what better way to spend it than by giving it to you?”
I patiently hold the gift card in my gloved hands as if he might decide to take it back. I am incredulous that he was given $100 in bookstore gift cards and did not spend all one hundred dollars immediately, as I would have done. But there is nothing my father needs, as evidenced by the fact that he gave away his 60th birthday Ipod (“It wasn’t really my thing,” he said. “Your sister will get a lot more use out of it.”) and nearly wet himself over receiving pistachios and Biscotti for Christmas. (“I don’t know what I ever did to deserve all this!” he cried happily).
We begin our walk back over the Brooklyn Bridge and I give him his gloves back.
“Are you sure?” he asks.
“My hands are fine,” I tell him. “You use them.”
“Are you sure you don’t want the second hat?” he asks.
“Yes,” I tell him. “Positive.”
We start our walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, back to his office, talking about something I don’t remember. He has agreed to take me to Garden of Eden, the grocery store near his office where he has insisted he will buy my lunch.
“Whatever you want,” he says.
“I really want an orange,” I tell him. “And a sandwich.”
“If you want ten oranges and ten sandwiches that’s ok too,” he says.
I tell him it’s ok, that I do not really need ten oranges. That I can’t imagine anyone needing ten oranges for anything other than juggling– a sport at which I am painfully inept. When I am there I ask him if I can get a pomegranate on a whim and he tells me (of course) that I can have ten pomegranates.
And I do not need ten pomegranates, so I decline the generous offer. I take my orange and my pomegranate and my sandwich and thank him very much as he walks to his office and I get on the train.
I don’t like to take his money, but I appreciate his gloves and my sandwich and the intensely sticky orange that will remain on my hands for the next half hour. I appreciate the offer of his hat. I try to imagine someone for whom I would do all these things, unprompted, but it is much easier to be chivalrous in my mind when I am sitting selfishly on the subway with a sandwich that I did not pay for.
I would like, someday, to be at the point in my life where the most fulfilling thing I could do with a $50 gift card would be to give it to someone else.
I am not there yet. I am not sure I am even close.
My father has only three inches on me, but he seems much bigger. I am surprised, actually, that he doesn’t block out more of the wind when he tries to shield me from it.
* * *
If you enjoyed the post, follow the blog or like The Ugly Volvo on Facebook. Thank you!
If you are my dad and you are reading this, Happy Father’s Day! I love you and congratulations on being able to use the internet well enough to find this post! (It’s fine, I know mom probably helped)
If you are looking for a wonderful Father’s Day gift for a father or father-type person, check out Jason Good’s book, “This is Ridiculous, This is Amazing: Parenthood in 71 Lists.” My current favorite parenting-related quote from it is:
“All you really need to know is this: When your co-parent says, “Come help me,” what she or he really means is, “Please join me in suffering through this situation neither of us can control.”
You can buy the book by clicking the link below or you can not buy it by not clicking the link below OR you can not buy it by clicking the link below and then going, “No, maybe I’ll get him something from TJ Maxx– he needs work shirts.” Or you can buy it by going into a store and just buying it. Or by going into a store, asking if they have WiFi, logging back into this post and then buying it by using the link, which seems like a lot of trouble, but hey, it’s your life. There are lots of ways to buy or not buy this book so at this point the decision is in your hands. But it’s funny and touching and probably like the cost of two lattes.*
*I don’t want to imply that lattes are not touching or very funny. It probably depends a lot on your barista.