From the moment a father first lays eyes on his daughter, she is forever his little girl, and he is forever her hero.
— from The Wonder Years (now that is a show I miss)
My dad and I have a very special relationship. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a girl or because I’m the youngest, but there’s always been a unique bond between us. When you add in Nate, sometimes my mom feels left out, because the three of us – sharing as we do genetics and a history that predates my mom’s presence in our lives – become a unit that can be impenetrable. I never feel more protected, in every sense of the word, than when I’m with the two of them.
I never realized it growing up, because I was self-centered in the way that most kids and teens are when they have everything they need and no worries to speak of, just how much my dad sacrificed for us. At 24, he took us from one place as very young toddlers because he didn’t think it was good for us, and eventually found that the place he’d taken us was more harmful than he could have believed, especially for Nate. I can’t imagine, as a parent, what that must feel like, to find out that your kids were being harmed by someone who had promised to love them – and you. So he took us from there, but we couldn’t all stay together, because he was in school, so Nate went to live with my grandma, and I went to live with my dad’s cousin.
While I lived there, I went to a preschool, and they were going to take us on a trip to the beach. I was really excited because I had never been to the beach before. But one day, my dad called and said he was coming to get me. The cousin had told him about the trip and how excited I was, so he asked me if I wanted him to come “before the beach or after the beach.” And I remember clearly, nearly 30 years later, leaning on the back of the recliner, playing with the telephone cord, and saying, “Before the beach.” And I knew that he was only taking me to my grandma’s, not to live with him yet, but even at 4 years old, I missed him even more than I wanted to go to the beach.
When we finally settled in Virginia and he was teaching at the local college, he eventually started looking for jobs elsewhere. He looked as far away as California, and I remember complaining that I didn’t want to move. I learned later that he had been offered several positions, but had turned them down so Nate and I could grow up and graduate in one place.
He bailed me out financially in college more times than I can count. He taught me how to break in a baseball glove with saddle soap, a softball, a rubberband, and a mattress. He gave me the opportunity to live in Spain while I was in high school, even if I whined like an ungrateful child in the beginning because I didn’t recognize how lucky I was. He thanked me in his dissertation for giving up my bedroom so that he could use it for his research (I was 7 or 8). He came to every night of every play and musical I was in in high school, and video taped them all. Before he and my mom sat us down to tell us Nick had been killed by a drunk driver while riding his bike, he offered me the spot on the couch next to him because he knew how much I cared about Nick (I turned him down because I thought they were sitting us down to talk about the beer they’d found in the fridge from when they were out of town). The day after I lost my hearing, I was eating breakfast in my living room when I all of a sudden recognized a pounding at my door. I opened it to see him standing on the other side; he dropped his bag and just grabbed me and held me for a long time. I told him later that day that this was “pretty much the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me.” He tapped me on the shoulder (because I wasn’t looking at him) and said, “Me, too.” He cried the night I called to tell him I’d been accepted to law school and offered a big scholarship. He cried again when he was the first one I called the minute I found out I passed the bar exam.
And most importantly, he gave us a mother who loves us without reservation – even when we sometimes band together in the three-person cocoon that’s existed as long as I’ve been alive.