16 June 2013

happy father’s day

my dad is absolutely one in a million. one in a trillion, really. he is incredibly unique, and he’s far and away the most self-assured person i’ve ever met. my whole life i’ve known that he is an eccentric individual, and the zaniness just increases every year, it seems. at the center of all his quirks, he has the most golden heart. and just thinking about his sterling goodness puts a lump of adoration, admiration and appreciation in my throat. i can’t believe how blessed i am to have this crazy cool man as my dad, and i am completely inadequate in expressing the love, esteem and gratitude i feel for him.

dad

when i was in college, i took a memoir writing class, and decided to write a piece about my father. as i worked through revisions, my professor and classmates totally fell in love with my dad. they seriously couldn’t wait to read more stories, to hear more anecdotes about him. this guy is quite the charismatic and endearing character. on this father’s day, i wanted to share excerpts from this mini-memoir (please excuse the capital letters!), which only scratch the surface of special experiences i’ve had with my pops. one of my life dreams is to add to this and turn it all into a book. click through below to read more.

oh my goodness! i love my dad so, so, so, so, so, so, so (are you getting the picture?!) so, so, so, so much.

Charity Eyre
WRT 225 – final project
May 13, 2006
Mirror-Mirror Land

Example is always the best teacher – and what we do always overshadows and overwhelms and outreaches what we say…While example is the prime teacher, close behind (and closely interrelated) are the methods of storytelling, games, role-playing, and imagination.
--Richard Eyre, introduction to Teaching Your Children Values


The dress I wore had poofy sleeves the size of my head. The matching blue floral fabric bow on top of my hair clashed with the nine early-90s blue floral upholstered chairs lined up on the stage where we sat. My parents were in the middle of seven of their nine children, dressed in their best, Mom’s hair teased and Dad discussing the show with her using big hand gestures. Shortly after the cameras started rolling, we each got to introduce ourselves to Oprah, the studio audience, and the potential viewers.

“Hi! I’m Talmadge, and I’m fourteen, and I play basketball,” my tallest brother who sat next to me said.

The cameras panned past my smiling parents and turned toward me. I took a deep little breath and exclaimed, “I’m Charity, and I’m six, and I’m out of school today!” The studio audience laughed courteously.

My family appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show to promote my parents’ new book, Teaching Your Children Values. We sat in a line of those heinous chairs in front of the cameras and a studio audience to talk with Oprah about raising values-centered children.

“Well, you know, Oprah,” my dad would begin each answer, responding to her questions about raising honest, responsible, self-disciplined kids. Oprah attempted to balance things out by directing questions specifically toward my mom. “Well, it has really worked for us to encourage our children to make decisions in advance,” my mom said, and as she continued to talk, my dad nodded along, opening his expectant mouth in each pause. “Absolutely,” he said when it seemed Mom had made her point. “You know, Oprah, in a world so work-consumed for us and so full of pressures for our children, parents really have to sit down with their children and talk through decisions they can make now that will allow them to reach the goals that you have for them and that they have for themselves.”

Before we flew out to Chicago, Dad had given each of us a topic to say a few sentences about. We had agreed earlier that I was the one of the children that got to talk a little about how we dealt with money in our family.

“Noah,” my dad said, averting his gaze from Oprah to my twelve-year-old brother, “why don’t you tell these folks about our family bank?”

My father, a short time after I was born, had decided to nickname his children after the nine planets, making he and Mom the sun and designating me as Pluto. Luckily, on the Oprah stage, I wasn’t farthest from the sun, but sitting right next to my dad on the stage. I poked him in the side with my four fingers. “Oh, oh, Charity,” he said, cutting Noah off. “Actually, why don’t you tell us about it, dolly?”

***

A family bank is a great teacher of frugality and discipline,especially if it pays high interest. Let children spend their own money, but explain to them the rewards and growth of disciplined saving. Give older elementary children an old checkbook and check register so that they can withdraw or deposit money to the family bank (and can learn the financial process and procedures of money management).

My dad invented our family bank, established in 1978, when my oldest sister turned eight. He nailed the sides of a wooden box together, carved out “Bank of Eyrealm” on one side, and cut a slot in the top. He thought (and my mother, of course, agreed) that eight was a good age for children to learn some responsibility with money. On my eighth birthday, I got an old navy-blue leather check book filled with expired checks with our parents’ names on them and a check registry. I used a special silver pen to emblaze my name on the cover and always considered my check book much cooler than my brother Eli’s, which was a gross color of brown. Each week, if we did all of our chores and practicing, we recorded it on a paper slip, had one parent initial it, and slipped it in the bank. I always forgot to fill out my slip at the end of the day, so I put a rock under my pillow to help me remember each night. Because if you deposited slips in every day of the week, you got a bonus at family dinner on payday.

My favorite part of the Eyrealm bank was the bonuses. Not only was there the consistency bonus, but there also were prizes for memorizing. We memorized little sayings and inspirational quotes from people like C.S. Lewis. The only one I remember in full today is “Good is the enemy of best,” and that one has stuck with me because it was Dad’s favorite. He always wanted me to go to Harvard, the best, but he settled for Wellesley because he thought it was beautiful and classy. His new ambition for me is to go to Harvard for grad school, just like he did.

Oprah made my dad “the best.” Teaching Your Children Values became a national best-seller as soon as the words of its title came out of her mouth. Many other books (most co-authored by my mother) preceded and followed this book, my least favorite being How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex, which hit bookstores when I was in middle school. But Teaching Your Children Values is the book that has really stuck with me my whole life. It’s the title people conjure up when they meet me, exclaim, “You are Richard Eyre’s daughter?!” and look at me like I am the most respectable teenager in a one hundred mile radius. Its methods and teachings have followed me everywhere on my road of life, with my dad at the wheel.

***

The most important thing, we feel, is that parents consciously develop their own set of family values and work at teaching those values to their children. The home will never – should never – can never be replaced as the institution where basic values are learned and taught…It is crucial that we as parents spend time with our children, individually and collectively, and serve as examples for values-based lives. In a world so bombarded by media and social pressure and so dominated by work and career, we need to first and foremost be there for our children and guide them with parenthood as our priority.

In the bottom drawer of my father’s roll-top desk in the den of my childhood home is a tennis racquet case. It is old and worn and yellowed. If you unzip it, nine little gold books fall out. These are Gold Books, another invention of Dad’s. They are pocket sized monthly planners, but Dad calls them “the anti-planner.” He believes that we rationalize and schedule our lives into oblivion; that because we are so exact and calculating about our days, we miss out on the serendipities of life. In a Gold Book, each day gets designated to a page with a bold line drawn down the middle. On one side, the owner should put in his daily activities and obligations, and on the other he should jot down what happened that was unexpected or accidentally wonderful.

The Gold Books in the tennis racquet case, however, are not planners or anti-planners. They are Daddy Date Books. Each one has a name on the front (mine or one of my eight siblings’) and random notes, tickets, and candy wrappers taped in with band-aids or stapled. Every month in our home growing up, each of us got to go on a Daddy Date. Most times we could choose where we went, and we had the time with Dad all to ourselves. After the date, we always kept a memento for our Daddy Date Book.

Most often, my dad took me to George’s store. It’s an invisible place, on the grass in front of the mortuary a few streets down from our house on Augusta Way. Dad told me I could see George and his store when I was twelve, and my siblings post-twelve testified that they could indeed. I used to hop excitedly into my dad’s car when he declared it was my turn for a Daddy Date, and we would cruise down to George’s store. Dad would pull over, talk to what seemed like no-one, and some candy would appear magically in his hand. “Hey George-o, my man,” he would say, his head perched out of the red Alfa Romeo (if it was spring) or the black Chrysler LHS (if it was winter). 

“What do you have for my dolly, today?” He’d turn to me. “What do you want, Chare-bear, Skittles or Starburst?”

“Starbursts,” I would probably reply.

“George, she wants Starbursts.” He’d pause. “Oh, you’re out of those today, huh? Alright, give us the Skittles.” And then his clenched hand would open and a little Halloween-sized pack of Skittles would lay there, the edges slightly faded.

“Thanks George!” I would yell out my window when we turned around and headed home.

When I was twelve, I still couldn’t see George’s store. “Did I say it was twelve?” my dad said. “It’s sixteen.”

In high school, he was always around. Oftentimes, my girlfriends and I would be sitting in my kitchen talking and my dad would enter. Before I knew it he would have them laughing and entertained. When we crashed at my house with our dates after the Halloween dance sophomore year, he insisted on telling the scary story of “Old Ephraim,” the token huge grizzly that made news ravaging the fields during his childhood in the farm country of Northern Utah. Everyone loved the story except for embarrassed me.

***
Help your children consciously define sportsmanship as doing one’s best and being gracious and blaming no one but themselves for the results. As elementary-age children become involved in sports and other competitive activities, take every opportunity to praise effort and sportsmanship. Emphasize these two things far more than winning. Help children see that it is immature to blame others and mature to accept an outcome and be gracious to one’s opponent.

We all always knew it was my destiny to be a cheerleader at East High. It was my dad who instilled in me the value and thrill of rooting for a sports team. When I was in fifth and sixth grade, I went to at least six basketball games a week with my dad to watch my older brothers play for the leopards. We sat with the other parents in the section of the bleachers designated as “home patrons” side by side, yelling unabashedly.

“If they would only put Talmadge in and get the ball to him in the paint, he would score or get fouled every time!” Dad would say to me, in between a whisper and a yell.

“Totally, Dad.” I would reply. “PUT IN NUMBER FORTY TWO COACH!”

I would scream at the refs and throw my hands up in exasperation at every missed rebound. My specialty was making annoying sounds when a member of the opposing team was shooting free-throws. The parents around me would clandestinely cover their ear closest to me as I whistled and yelled and twiddled my tongue. My dad would just pat me on the back whenever the player missed the free-throw.

I would only leave my spot on the bleachers at full time-outs to get treats from the vending machine. “Dad, can I have a dollar?” I would ask. “Sure, dolly,” he would reply.

Dad always brought his own snacks, usually a plastic grocery bag full of his own special recipe of popcorn. Before we left for the games, he would pop some of the corn that we kept in a huge bin in the garage at home. While the popper buzzed on the kitchen counter, he would measure out a precise amount of butter, put it in the microwave for exactly 25 seconds, and get out the large container of salt from above the stove. When everything was popped, he would drizzle the butter in circles over the popcorn, then count an exact number of shakes of salt into the bowl. He would dig his beefy hands into the bowl and toss the popcorn and then pour it into a bag and tie the plastic handles. “Got the pops-corn,” he’d say. When we went to movies, he followed the same routine, but then he had to hide the bag inside is large leather coat when walking past the ticket-taker.

Often when I came back from the vending machines, Dad would have flossed his teeth with anything he could find, as popcorn has a certain tendency to get stuck in one’s teeth. Once he ripped the corner off of my biology notebook I had left sitting on the bleacher to get the irritating, buttery and salty piece out. I heaved great sighs of annoyance and yelped, “DAD!” but then the buzzer sounded and we were back in the game.

When my brothers lost the state championship final by one point in double overtime, I cried into my dad’s shoulder the whole way home. And when John Stockton hit a buzzer three-pointer to send the Utah Jazz to the NBA finals, I leaped into my fathers unsuspecting arms and kissed his prickly unshaven face as my brothers tore the cushions off the couch, held them above their heads, and danced around us.

Surely I was destined to be a cheerleader, and that I became, clad in sparkle and spandex. My dad was at almost every game, cheering for the cheerleaders, for his cheerleader.

I was also a member of Dance Company, and when I was seventeen, I had no trouble convincing my dad to dance on stage with me for the traditional senior daddy/daughter dance. When the student choreographers asked for a volunteer to stand in the middle of the stage and lip sync the first phrase at the very beginning, my friends’ dads that knew mine nominated him and he concealed his excitement with a modest, “Oh, alright.” Despite his enthusiasm, it did take a lot of work to teach Dad how to dance. The only move he had mastered was the pivot turn, which he claimed was just like basketball.

We were waiting to enter stage right; I was fastening my poodle skirt over my leotard when Dad said, “Dolly, I have a surprise for you.”

He pulled out a white cardboard box, which I noticed had “Salt Lake Costume Company” stamped on the side. He opened the box and pulled out a large, black, mop of a wig. The lights were dimming outside in the auditorium to signal the end of intermission. He put the wig on his head and dramatically swiveled toward me and winked, his thumbs and pointer fingers making faux pistols by his waist. “Ha,” he said with the wink, and then noticed the incredulous look in my eyes. But there was no time to stop him. Before I knew it, there he was onstage, black wig and all, pretending to be Danny Zuko and missing most moves except the pivot, which he executed brilliantly and even on count. Even after months of rehearsal, in the parts of the dance when we were in the back row, I had to remind him by scooting him back from the front of the stage with considerable force.

“Yeah, Rick!” I heard yelled from the audience as everyone clapped along to “Greased Lightening.” After the show, all my friends fawned over my dad and congratulated me on his performance. I should have seen this coming. He never fails to simultaneously embarrass me and charm the audience.

***
Remember that unselfishness does not come naturally. Everyone, although in varying degrees, is born with a certain amount of selfishness, and some children just always want to be the center of attention. There is no quick fix for learning to be unselfish. It is a process that takes thinking and practicing and a certain amount of maturity to develop.

After Oprah made my parents a kind of parenting celebrity, they began extensive speaking tours all over the country. My siblings and I got to travel for free but had to attend countless luncheons and conferences and forums. Before these events, I was always the one to help Dad with picking out his clothes while Mom blew her hair dry in the bathroom. He would ask me, “What color is this?” holding a silk tie in front of me. No matter what I told him, he would almost always still show up to the speaking events looking quite obviously colorblind. When someone wasn’t around to tell him which ties matched, he would just pick out a bolo tie with a silver pendant, which he claims matches everything.

At the lectures, my siblings and I would sit in the chairs on the front row, the eyeballs of the surrounding audience boring into the back of our heads. We often made bets before the lectures about which stories we thought Mom and Dad would tell.

“My money is on mom doing the ‘Don’t you wish you had a camera’ story about Eli and Charity,” Josh would say.

“Dad will for sure tell the one about Saren sending the leaf,” Saydi would reply.

We would sit upright, stealing glances at each other while we mouthed along with our parents’ familiar punch lines and waited for the audiences’ laugh. We’d hope that Dad wouldn’t ask us to us come up to the podium and say a word, but our hope was always in vain because he always did. He told the audiences that “they wanted to hear it right out of the horse’s mouth, right?” Mom would shoot us an apologetic glance at our annoyed but unsurprised faces. We always came up with some thing witty to say on the spot and I have to admit I liked the attention; glowing faces of admiring parents looking up at me. In the past ten years, the speaking tours have only expanded to become world-wide. My dad claims he has been to one hundred countries, and while he is famous in our family for exaggeration, I doubt he is too far off. Since I left home two years ago, my parents have been around the world three times, writing emails to us from places like South Africa, Oman, India, Germany, Brazil, and Panama. Last year, Dad had t-shirts made recording their extraordinary around-the-world speaking tour. He loves these t-shirts and adores us when we wear them. “They’re just like rock star tour t-shirts,” he says. Sure enough, all the dates and places are printed out on the back, just like all my oldest brother’s U2 shirts.

***
Family traditions can help children to feel the security of belonging to a strong family, to an institution for which they can feel loyalty. Develop a simple family slogan or motto and say them together every day for a while, then perhaps once a week. Create family traditions (often built around holidays or birthdays) that you repeat year after year. Have one ongoing family tradition of supporting other family members in their activities (attend games, performances, etc.)

My father’s birthday is in October. His birthday tradition has always been “jumping in the leaves.” Every year we rake the leaves in our front yard or at the park and my brothers take swan dives into the piles and my sisters stuff leaves down the back of each other’s shirts. Every October 28th my dad insists that we bury him in mounds of fallen red and orange leaves, covering up every part of his clothes and body, leaving a sliver of space so he can breathe through his nose. When we are all quiet and when he feels ready, he pops out of the pile with his arms raised and we sing “Happy Birthday,” followed by Dad’s own invention: our special Eyre family birthday song.

My oldest sister went away to Wellesley College when I was only two years old. On Dad’s birthday, she sent home a card. Dad loves to tell the story in speeches of how he opened that envelope only suspecting a little poem from Saren (he insists the only present he wants is a poem from each child for every birthday), but something else fluttered out of the card when unbent: a single, red New England autumn leaf. “This is from the pile of leaves I jumped in for your birthday, Dad,” the card said. Since that year, my dad has gotten leaves from the places all over the world that my siblings have lived. One year Noah was living in Hawaii and in the absence of autumn leaves slapped some postage on a coconut and sent it home to Dad.

My birthday tradition is to have a barbeque and dance, and as long as I can remember that has occurred at our cabin at Bear Lake in Idaho, where we go every summer. The flexibility of being best-selling authors (thanks again to Oprah) has allowed for my parents to take summers off and make a tradition of going to Bear Lake. My mom grew up in Montpelier, the little town just north of the lake, and when my dad saw the place, he fell in love with it. He took my mom there on their honeymoon, and built an A-frame cabin just a few years later. Inside, he hung our family banner, which Mom had emblazoned with our family motto, “Broaden and Contribute.” He installed nine bunk beds that were chained to and swung down from the walls upstairs. Late at night we would lay in these beds smelling squishy like the lake and the only light would be from the crack in the bathroom door, casting a streak of light across Dad’s face as he sat cross legged on the floor. There, he would tell us stories of “Mirror-Mirror Land,” where nine kids that looked identical to each of us lived and had thrilling adventures, as we drifted off to sleep listening to each others breath and the crickets spinning outside.

Bear Lake is cradled in mountains, a deep and brilliant blue abyss among sagebrush-covered peaks. Behind the cabin development where the A-frame stands is a foothill, a perfect little symmetrical bump in the landscape. When I was young, I would get on the motorcycle behind a burly brother and scream as we whipped up the hill. I would breathe deep breaths into his back with my arms clenched around his waist as we admired the view together at the top. We called it “motorcycle mountain.” It was our family’s special place for hikes and four-wheel rides in the lazy, long, lethargic days of childhood summer. About ten years ago, my dad bought that hill. 

“Motorcycle mountain” became the site for “the lighthouse,” a glass-covered octagonal house that Dad dreamt up after years of sleeping next door to nine bunk bedded children in the A-frame. He designed every bit of the house himself, allowing for one bedroom and continuous window-seats that turn into beds, a grand piano, a huge jetted tub, a built in all-around sound system and a telescope.

Another family vacation destination that my father designated as a bi-yearly tradition was the Blue Mountains in Northern Oregon. We would pack ourselves into our twelve passenger navy blue van that Dad had installed a PA system in and drive for hours and hours, Shawni crying as she finished reading The Education of Little Tree and Jonah sitting on my head and farting. On our small patch of land my siblings had built a log cabin under my father’s direction the year before I was born.  By the time I arrived and we went back to what my dad lovingly calls “Oregando,” the rats had taken over the handmade cabin.

My dad went to buy a tent and came back with a tepee and we all spent about a month living in it perched up outside the cabin. We kept coming back year after year and Dad came to designate magical places in different locations on our land, like the “Grassy Knoll” on top of a green hill nearby and the “Enchanted Pool,” a small hole we made in the ground that filled with frigid water from the nearby fresh spring and in which we kept all our perishable food.

I suppose building houses became a family tradition, because Dad always thought it brought us together and helped us to learn the value of work. When I was about ten years old, Dad commissioned the building of what he termed the “Nipa Hut” in Hawaii. We had a good family friend with some land on Maui, so we went to the islands every Christmas for a few years running. We cut down bamboo trees and constructed a feeble frame and made thatched roof pieces. We spent days and days together working on the Nipa Hut and sent out pictures in our annual Thanksgiving Card (inside of which Dad always writes a poem). Weeks before we went back the next year to finish up our project, our family friend called and told us hardly anything remained of the house; it had blown over in a storm.

***

“Now,” said Oprah, “it seems like your family is just fine and dandy and perfect. Are you this ideal family we see on this stage, or do you all have any shortcomings? Don’t you ever fight?”

On the Oprah stage that sunny afternoon in Chicago, my parents both laughed and looked at each other. My brother Eli, then my archenemy, stuck his nine-year-old tongue out beneath his half-inch-thick glasses at me from across the stage. Mom and Dad had specifically asked that Eli and I sat no where near each other.

“Oh, Oprah, we may look like the perfect family,” my mom said.

“But we’re far from it,” my dad concluded.

“Well I know this audience here is just dying for a fight to break out,” Oprah said. “Now, you only have seven of your nine children here. Where are the other two? Jail? Rehab?”

The audience was disappointed to hear that my two oldest sisters were serving as missionaries for our church and doing humanitarian service in Romania and Bulgaria.

Give your children clear and specific models for friendliness, kindness, and politeness. Get together as a family and discuss how pleasant a place the world is when people are kind and gentle. Ask the children to join you in a “pact of gentleness and politeness.”…Demonstrate the practice and the benefits of peaceablity to your children and take advantage of the quality’s “contagiousness.” It is natural, as a parent, to say, “I have a right to get upset,” or “They needed that.” But no matter how much “right” we have, getting upset with children simply doesn’t work very well, and children really don’t “need” to see us lose our temper…Help your children express themselves and thus explore and enhance their sensitivity. Make sure a child has a journal or diary. Keep one yourself. Encourage the expression of feelings. Teach children to being many sentences in their journal with the words I feel.

The day I took a deep breath and dropped my college applications in the mailbox was a big day for my father too. I wasn’t about to let him write the essays for me although he obviously wanted to, but I did allow him to look over every piece of paper I sent in. Once I had everything printed on special paper and in neat stacks on the dining room table, I had one last question for Dad before stuffing the envelopes.

“Dad, come look at this,” I hollered.

“What is it, dolly?” He came into the room with a piece of toast, peanut butter dripping off the end and a tall glass of orange juice.

“No, no, no, no,” I said. “You can’t eat near my applications.”

“Charity, just let me see what you have a question about.”

“You can’t step in this room until you have finished eating and washed your hands.”

He just laughed. But I wasn’t being unreasonable. He writes or spills on everything; I would often find a phone number jotted down in his handwriting on the completed homework I had left on the kitchen table. He came to plan his weeks on paper plates, and he would leave past weeks in stacks around the house. It also annoyed me that he rips and folds over pages in books when he finds a passage he likes, whether the book is his, mine, a friend’s, or the library’s.

Rick Eyre is not the kind of man to wait patiently and obey prompts from an automated answering device when calling customer service. He just punches in zero repeatedly until he gets through to a real person, who he treats with haughtiness just like the annoying solicitors who would call our house on Saturday mornings, oftentimes asking for “Dick Eye-ree.” Three years in a row, he gave my mother exercise equipment for her birthday. The sound of the clinking of the dumbbells that he bought her drove me crazy when I tried to do homework while he was using them downstairs. When I snapped at him, annoyed, he would loose his patience, explode at me, and then take me on long drives saying, “I know you don’t have it in your heart to be so rude to your parents…how can we remind you to be nicer?” He came up with all sorts of methods, including hand signals and secret passwords to help me remember to be kind or his intentional ignoring of anything he termed rude coming from me. The only cure happened to be growing up and being apart.

Pluto was in her farthest orbit of the sun in the high school years, but eventually she spun closer and closer to the blazing ball after escaping to college and leaving home. Now, I watch my father with my sisters’ children, his most beloved grandchildren, and I often become so nostalgic of my days under his spell. He lines them up, tallest to shortest and has them chant “Treasure-chest! Treasure-chest” and march into the den, where he pulls out another wood box, this one painted bright blue, that he constructed much like the Bank of Eyrealm. “Now don’t forget to close your eyes, kids. If you peep, all the creatures in the treasure chest will melt!” Then, “Open up!” And none other than the same back-flipping wind-up monkey or crazy glasses that resided in the treasure chest back when I was small appears on top of the box. The kids squeal with excitement as they huddle in the nook under Dad’s desk where his chair and legs normally go. “Watch this!” he says to wailing grandkids, “I can take off my thumb!” And he does the trick that I remember being so puzzled by when I was their age, sliding his left-hand thumb back and forth to make it look as if his right was coming off.

Dad’s biggest dream in life is to have flowing silver (not gray) hair and fifty grandchildren. Each year we get a Christmas card from our neighbors the Smiths, who also have nine kids also but are fifteen years older than Mom and Dad. They have forty-seven grandkids. When the card comes in the mail, Dad always says, “If the Smiths have forty-seven, we can have fifty.” He has even suggested a money reward for each new grandchild. I am terrified that eventually I will have four kids and the grandkid count will be forty-seven.

***

If you love them, tell them. Form a parental habit of saying, “I love you.” It seems often that children are always doing things differently than we would do them. Sometimes, with all our criticism, it is hard for our children to remember we love them. The best solution to their problem is to tell them that we love them, not only through the things that we do for them but by saying “I love you” as they leave for school, as they go to bed, and especially when they do something that makes you happy or proud. Think about how long it has been since you have told your teenager that you love them. If it has been a while, it may seem difficult and awkward. Do it anyway. You may be surprised at how soon they’ll be saying the same thing to you.

Whenever I leave my father for a long period of time, he holds my face in his hands and makes me stare into his tired brown eyes for about thirty seconds, no words allowed. He sends out emails to all my siblings, usually in the form of a poem, every week. Each Sunday, he has “interviews” each of us. I am scheduled for the fourth Sunday of the month because I am the fourth daughter. When I go with my parents to speeches or book events, he introduces me as “our baby.” When I come home from college or trips with my friends, he hugs me so tight I am often annoyed. He buys me ridiculous Christmas presents like a faux fur cap that looks like it is straight out of St. Petersburg and leopard print gloves and sheepskin boots with orange embroidered and bedazzled flowers. He wears new t-shirts nine days in a row, “just to break it in,” leaves apple cores on the floor of his car for weeks, and puts used q-tips back in the drawer. We love him nonetheless.

Just a few days ago I got a package from my father in the mail. Inside were twenty Gold Books and a pair of jeans I had left at home over spring break. I brought the package home, dumped the Gold Books in my desk drawer and went about my homework. The next day when I pulled my jeans on, I felt a scrap of paper as I smoothed out my right pocket.

A note on the back of a receipt. “Chare, when you pull this note out of your pocket, just remember HOW MUCH YOUR DAD LOVES YOU! You are the most perfect, passionate, pretty, precarious daughter and I am proud of you to heaven. –POPS.”

He leaves me long drawn out messages that often include a song of his own composing. “I hope you’re having a great day, dolly,” he sings, slightly off-tune, “you’re as sweet as a lolly, dolly. Cally me back.” When I return his call, he doesn’t say good-bye at the end of the conversation, only “I love you,” then snaps his phone shut.

9 comments :

  1. After reading this, I'm now dripping with tears! Thank you, dear stranger friend, for sharing your life and loves with us all, truly!

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  2. This is awesome writing Char! We have ourselves a pretty awesome Dad. And through it all, we have become great friends. Sorry for sticking my tongue out at you on Oprah. I think I was just mad she kept calling me Ellie.

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  3. What a great post on Father's Day. Your writing is terrific, and you really got me thinking about some of the reasons I love my dad too.

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  4. So beautiful, Char. Love that Dad of ours. Love YOU!

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  6. Love seeing this through your eyes! So much that I didn't know or forgot! Your writing is simply stellar. How lucky am I to live with this excellent, eccentric, eloquent, exciting person?

    So glad you got many of his attributes...including a passion for life! This is a treasure!

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  7. I so remember watching that episode of Oprah and was so in awe of what an amazing , loving family you were (and are)! I wanted my future kids to have a relationship like you and your family had and was inspired to name my oldest son Jonah. I didn't start my own family until many years later , but I now have a Jonah of my own who is 15. Blessings to your family!!

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  9. Such intentional parenting! This is what I strive for.

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