I remember waiting for you. Three years old, I stood by the window for at least an hour on the morning you were supposed to visit. I grew hungry. I had to pee. My woolen tights itched. I watched my breath fog up against the windowpane for some minutes before having the idea to draw shapes in the condensation. I heard a car approaching, and my heart beat faster. Could this be the one? But no, just another taxi. Perhaps one hundred cars passed by during that hour that seemed to stretch into days. None was yours.
When you did arrive, late — parking in the city being what it was, and is — I had used up all of my anticipatory energy. I was already disappointed.
And when you hugged, me, I did not like your scent. It was unfamiliar. Your beard was scratchy. It was all wrong. I’d dreamed you differently.
What is a girl to do when she sees her father only every few years? I’d get to know you, a little, and then you’d leave. And a year later — which in the life of a child is so much more than a year — you’d return, and we’d do the getting-to-know-you dance all over again.
It was tiring.
I wrote you careful letters. I used my neatest print, and I did my best to make my life seem as exciting as I could manage. This was a difficult task. I knew perfectly well that my life was anything but exciting. Did you want to hear about my new bike, purple and glittery with a white banana seat? I used too many exclamation points and drew circles to top my i’s. I professed extravagant love for you. I thought that’s how a daughter was supposed to write to her father. All that I knew I’d seen on TV. I had no idea.
Your absence ended up feeling normal. Habit — so that on the rare occasion when I did see you, it was awkward. I was sullen. Once, as a teenager, I stayed at a summer house with you, and you tried to teach me tennis. I had a strong arm, and I routinely punched the ball long, sometimes even over the fence around the tennis court. I wanted to exasperate you, and I did.
Later you’d tell me that I’d been a humorless child, and that was accurate. What you didn’t realize — why didn’t you realize this? — is that it was only you with whom I was humorless.
Over breakfast today, I told my husband that I might say “Happy Father’s Day” on air this afternoon during my volunteer shift at our local public radio station. It was for him — and for our children — that I would want to make this gesture, but he misunderstood my intent.
He said, “Maybe Dick will be listening.”
(Aside: Dick is in fact my father’s name.)
My quick, still sleepy, and therefore guileless response: “Who?”
Then he laughed, and I did, too. ‘Who’ indeed, ‘who’ indeed.