Dads and Daughters

Dad wanted me to share this with the world. Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

I skipped out of the house and rolled down the backseat window, just to let my hair blow in the breeze and slap my face when we hit the busy street and Dad hit the accelerator. I loved that feeling. Freedom is what they called it. Way back then I didn’t care about how my hair looked or what I wore. Then, I cared only about important stuff, like whether Dad would let me buy something from the ice cream man and the fact that I was staying up later than my bedtime, later than my stupid little brothers.

I was a whole lot smarter when I was ten.

A glorious summer evening, lawn chairs and blankets littered the freshly cut grass in front of the crowded park benches like misplaced postage stamps. Stout Park was packed. I spread my sleeping bag over the hard packed ground off to the right of the stage, in front, but out of the way. I liked being by myself and having a birds’ eye view of the band. Ants congregated on hills, playing their own special games, kids swayed like pendulums on the enormous swing set behind the bandstand then jumped to the sand beneath and raced for the gigantic slide. Dogs, all on leashes, barked at the squirrels. The bell of the Good Humor truck jingled in the background as mothers and grandmothers chatted about the weather, the hot dogs they’d grilled for dinner, and how they’d managed to pull the laundry off the line just before the passing afternoon shower.

After ten minutes or so, the musicians took their seats, organized and clamped their music to the portable metal stands with gigantic clothespins, and sat anxiously waiting for those last few seconds, itchy to get started, shifting in their chairs until they saw their director stand. When they picked up their instruments, the chatter of voices ceased, and quiet expectancy calmed the still gathering crowd. The excitement was palpable and even the wispy clouds floating above heard the message. They faded like fireflies as dusk settled and the streetlights turned on—soundless, soft light, not enough to obscure the rising stars, but more as shadow-casters, mood-setters, or even better, mood-soothers.

Then the whisper of the band director, “And a one, and a two, and a three…” The saxophone’s tender sounds… “Summertime, where the livin’ is easy, fish are jumpin’, and the cotton is high”…and I’m laying on my back, singing along, watching the leaves bend with the breeze, or maybe the tone of the alto sax made them bow, because there’s a power in that music—enough to move mountains, to heal hearts, to soothe the angriest of souls. “Hush little baby, don’t you cry.”

Within seconds, I’m transported to another universe. My foot taps out the rhythm and a smile creeps over my face as my heart swells with pride. That’s my daddy up there on the stage. The handsome young man playing the sax solo.

Dads and daughters. Daughters and dads.

The first man I ever looked up to, ever admired, ever aspired to emulate.  Although I’d never be a man, I had dreams of matching his strength and talent—if I just tried hard enough. Or maybe I’d get lucky and the powerful mix would just seep into me, like osmosis, a magical process I didn’t want to understand. The depth of his love and acceptance would simply ooze inside of me and fill my heart to overflowing. I hoped folks could tell, just by looking at me, that I had come from greatness, that I had something to share that they wanted to be a part of, just as much as I wanted them to.

My plaid sleeping bag became a magical carpet and I was whisked into the star-studded sky, meeting my own handsome prince, living in my very own mystical castle with Cinderella’s carriage and a baker’s dozen of footmen ready to answer my beck and call.

The thing is, it’s not just about the fond memories, or the fact that I can still taste the Good Humor Chocolate Éclair ice cream bar, and hear the strains of Dad’s alto sax with the ease of a simple thought. It’s the fact that each and every time I hear Dad’s music, it heals me. All the little bumps and bruises, all the cuts and scrapes, all the sadness of my soul, the insecurity and the fears. Each note, each beat, fills me with its soothing balm and rescues me from the daily push and pull, from the overwhelming strife.

I know that I am loved, and that he is with me whether we are near or far. For he is in my very heart and soul. I hear his voice even when I am not with him. I see his smile when I cannot see his face. I feel the touch of his hand on mine, the way it pushes strength to my weakest points and fills in all the cracks and splinters so that I am whole again.

Dads and daughters. Daughters and dads.