That one time I met my Daddy

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My father. I didn’t grow up with him in my life. He was out of the picture before my second birthday. The reasons why are not important. It was not his fault. I never blamed him. I just accepted that he was not able to be around. I knew, somehow, that the reasons WHY had nothing to do with me. I just accepted that he was not able to be around. You sort of don’t miss what you’ve never had so I didn’t really dwell on it or pine for him to be in my life.

About ten years ago, out of the blue, I got a letter from a woman…his wife…saying that if I wanted time with him, the time was now because he was ill. I had never even THOUGHT about this possibility…but when faced with it, there was no question that I would go to him.

We spent one day together. This is what happened:

It turned out my father lived about ten blocks from where I grew up. The excitement of that day, the day we arranged to meet was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s too hard to put into words. I won’t even try. All I know is I wanted to hug him and to let him know that somehow, all along, I knew that the fact that he was not in my life was not his fault. And more than anything, I wanted him to be proud of me.

When the moment came & I walked into the room to see him for the first time in almost 40 years, I saw a man, frail but proud, sitting on the side of the bed, struggling to stand up with the use of a walker. The first words I spoke to him ever (save for maybe some baby babble when I was a toddler) were: “It’s ok Daddy. You don’t need to stand up”.

“DADDY”. That was a salutation I had NEVER said in my life. And why did I call him “Daddy”? Why not “Dad” or “Papa” or “Father”? Ok, “Father” was probably not very likely, but I thought it was interesting that, in that moment, “Daddy” was what felt right & natural…as if I’d been saying the word forever and a day. As it turns out I think I just might be a Daddy’s Girl after all…and that is fine by me.

I went over to him. We hugged…and spent the next six hours catching up. There was no awkwardness.  It was natural and easy. He felt like HOME.

On that day I learned things about him that I never knew. My mum never spoke much about him and when she did it was when pointing out my perceived faults and how they were inherited from him…according to her.

Getting to know him for myself, on our terms, as an adult, was a blessing.

Turns out he was a special Ed-teacher. That was what I thought I wanted to be from about age 5 until college…when I discovered that I wasn’t nearly as noble as I once thought. I inherited his fierce stubbornness & his unwillingness to compromise on issues big (Liberal Democrat for life!) & small (we-no-likey pineapple on our pizza, no way, no how!), his inability to master the use of chopsticks & having never owned a car.

One thing I didn’t inherit from him was his talent for art & music, though my appreciation for both is deep. He played 5 instruments (self-taught) & was a talented artist who painted & made very delicate multi-media collages; my stick figures are round. Sigh. He was a professionally trained chef; I manage to burn boiling water!

Even the fact that we both were wearing red (a color I never wear for whatever reason) seemed to be a sign…but one tends to read maybe too much into things in emotionally charged situations such as seeing your father for the first time in over 30+ years. But I clung onto every nuanced genetic link I could on that day. I was desperate to make connections, to draw a line from his heart, his brain, his soul to mine, to be my father’s daughter.

When I was a little girl I thought my father was Marvin Gaye & my mother was Jackie Kennedy. Ok, I KNEW they weren’t REALLY my parents but to my child’s eyes that’s who they looked like to me in the peak of their youthful beauty. Throughout my life whenever I’d see or hear Marvin Gaye I would think of my father. In truth those were the only times I did think about him. 

While Daddy & I were taking…about everything…I suddenly had an urge to ask him a preposterous question. Knowing this might be my only chance to do so, I went for it. “Daddy, do you know what today is?” Most people would have answered, “It’s April 1st (which it was) or “It’s April Fool’s Day” (which it was). But that was not the answer I was looking for; the answer I was looking for was so random and obscure…and yet somehow I felt like he would know.  My Daddy said, without a hint of implying that his answer would seem most random to anyone, “It’s the anniversary of Marvin Gaye’s death”.

There is no way I can explain that to you.  First of all, how many people would even KNOW that (another thing Daddy & I had in common – massive amounts of useless trivia, usually entertainment related, rattling around in our heads). And how would he know that THAT was the answer I was hoping for…all the while knowing that it was literally insane to think that he would give the “right” answer. But he did. My Daddy didn’t let me down. He knew.

The similarities between us were instantly apparent & magical. We shared the same passion for politics & music & football (though differed in team allegiance – his 49ers vs. my Raiders) & pizza & our favorite cookies: Oreos!! The same quirky habit of bouncing one leg up & down when eating a particularly scrumptious morsel of food was evidenced over a shared meal of…you guessed it: Pizza & Oreos. A love of writing long handwritten letters to friends, whipping out a well-worn dog-eared book in the midst of a passionate debate to find the perfect quote to prove our point & an affinity for all things PBS, CSPAN & jazz music radio stations, were another part of our shared tapestry in life.

The question of nature vs. nurture is a complicated one. I am more like him in every way than I am like my mother who raised me. Of course I am my mother’s daughter but more in the ways that were pounded (literally) into my head or forced on me through fear. But that’s another story for another day.

There was a lot that I didn’t know about my father before that day. But it turned out, he knew a lot about me. He pulled out a box full of many of my modeling clippings from the many times I was in the local paper. He knew where I went to college and that I had graduated president of my class. He knew that I was smart, brave and funny.

He told me that he was proud of me. Proud of the woman I had become. And that is really all I needed to hear. I still remember that on days when I don’t feel so smart or so brave or so funny…but I AM…cause my daddy said so.

At one point, he said, so very wistfully, “I think you turned out so well because I wasn’t around to mess you up”. “Nooo, Daddy”, I pleaded. “You get to take credit for who I am. At least half of it. I am YOUR daughter”. His eyes welled with tears. It was important for him to know that. I got the sense that it was something he had thought a lot about. I’m glad I was able to put his mind at ease. It was the most poignant moment of the day…of which there were many.

My father was a handsome, talented, funny, caring, charming, witty, gifted, creative, passionate, complicated man (5 kids by 4 different women will do that to a you). What a man, what a man, what a mighty good man. I was BEYOND grateful to meet him & remain prouder still to be his daughter. It’s funny: tho I never thought about the possibility of meeting him up to that day, now I can’t imagine what life would feel like NOT having had that experience.

He wrote me several sweet notes after our reunion before he died soon thereafter. To say I cherish them all of my heart is an understatement. He called me “Sweetheart” in those notes. To this day, when I look at them & see that tender greeting, I dissolve into tears.

My father passed away soon after that special reunion.

I miss him every day.

Dear sweet man. My daddy. He had a gentle spirit of a soul, a devilish twinkle in his eyes, and a deep kindness in his heart.

Happy Father’s Day, dear Daddy. I love you & I miss you.

Love,

Your sweetheart

I cry. And then I write.

I cry every day. Not sad boo-hoo tears. Sometimes not even really actual tears. Just that lump in the throat on the verge of crying feeling you get when you feel something deeply. It happens when I’m happy or sad or moved, usually by an unexpected moment of humanity, either witnessed by or extended to me. A child trying to navigate a melting ice cream cone. Someone letting me go ahead of them in the checkout line because I only have four items and they have 846. A video of a pup welcoming home its war vet owner. The person who moves over, without me having to glare at them, to offer me a seat on the bus. That hard-knock life story kid who makes it through to the next round on “American Idol”. My emotions are always right there…on the surface. I am easily moved. So to process it, to make sense of it, to prevent myself from wading in a puddle of tears all day, every day, I write. For myself mainly. For friends and family quite often. I need to get the emotions out…somehow. I also eat lots of pizza and chocolate to deal with the emotions…but, well, ya know. It’s a slippery slope into perma-stretchy-pants land. So I cry. And then I write.

People tell me I’m good at it (the writing, not the eating, though I have mastered that quite well). I don’t really understand that. I just write. I write the way I think and the way I talk. That may not be a good thing but it’s the only way I know how. I don’t worry about, nor am I interested in, the “proper” way to write. I’m not interested in “constructive criticism” when it comes to my “process”. I don’t write for that part of the experience. For me writing is just a way to express myself and if someone starts telling me that I am not expressing myself the “right” way, well, ain’t nobody got time for that. I get grumpy and defiant and my Triple Taurus vibe comes out (yes, that’s right. I said it. Triple Taurus). Plus, I’m much too thin-skinned to accept that type of feedback with an open heart. I know my emotional limits. I can’t change the way I write, my approach, my style, nor do I have any desire to. It is what it is. I just write. Because I feel things. So I cry. And then I write.

I took a fiction writing class in college during my senior year to fulfill an art requirement. The sad irony of the child of two artist parents is that I am the least artistic person you will ever meet. My stick figures are round. So a writing class seemed a good option. I enjoyed it. But it was frustrating because there were rules and criticism and it just took the joy out of the experience. I do however, enjoy the editing process. I usually just start wring stream of consciousness style and I have a tendency to use “&” a lot instead of writing the word “and”; I am trying to change that. That is a concession I will make for this endeavor. I love to revisit what I’ve written and fine tune it. Finding the perfect word, or turn of a phrase…that is actually where the joy comes for me. Getting it just right. I think that’s why I like writing. I can take as much time as I need to say exactly what I mean to say, the way I want to say it. Total “verbal” control. There is not much in life that I can control. The realm of my written words is that rare exception. So I cry. And then I write.

Anyone who knows me knows I am a talker. Big time. But every day I have moments where I reflect upon a conversion I’ve had and think, “Ugh. Why did I say THAT? Why didn’t I say THIS?” I cringe with the memory of all the “likes” and “umms” and “omgs”. The sputtering and floundering. I wish I could take those words back. A do over. A verbal rewrite. But I can’t. So I cry. And then I write.

More and more, over the years, people from all corners of my life, people who see short snippets of my posts on Instagram, or other social media platforms, people who don’t actually know me and therefore have no real vested interest, and aren’t obligated to the polite supportiveness of friendship, tell me I’m good at it. Writing. They tell me that a lot. All the time. Everyday. And so you get to a point where you think, “Maybe you need to listen. Stop dismissing it. You love to write. It brings you joy. People tell you it brings THEM joy. The say you have a gift. Don’t waste it”. So I cry. And then I write.

It seems everyone has a blog these days. This is not a ground breaking feat I’m embarking upon. People do it every day. But for me, it’s epic. Life changing. Dare I say, it’s even bold…for a person who is, by nature and habit, not a risk taker. This blog. My blog. A place for my writing to live. A forever home for my words.

I am creating this space because people often ask me, “So, where can I find your writing?” I’ve never had a place to direct them. It is, however, hard to imagine anyone other than immediate friends and family would be interested in the things I have to say or the stories I have to share…like the time I thought Marvin Gaye and Jackie Kennedy were my parents. And that time, for two weeks, when doctors debated if they would need to amputate my leg. And that time supermodel Gia Carangi pulled a knife on me. And that time Lean Horne requested to meet me. Or how I grew up not just IN the Haight-Ashbury in the 1960’s but actually ON Ashbury and Haight Streets, turning a year old during the Summer of Love, in a house where Jimi and Janis once lived. Yes. I’ve have stories to tell. But do I dare? And then there is the privacy thing. I am fiercely private. “Lulu” is my nom de plume. I won’t be posting picture of myself here. I worry that certain details I write about will out my identity. And that terrifies me. Maybe I’ll get over it. I’m not sure. So I cry. And then I write.

The emotion of what I’m doing…finally…after so many years of false starts. It’s terrifying. I even put a little bit of money towards this blog because I have creative OCD and I want the site to look a certain way. Fonts matter. I’m sort of weird that way. So it feels real. Like, am I really doing this? So I cry. And then I write.

And as I sort through the myriad of offered color palates for the blog design (OMG, why are there so many?) I am overwhelmed and afraid and excited. And as with any major shift in life, there are signs…everywhere…right this moment that I am doing this thing. My cat rolls over on the TV remote and the weight of his furry tummy presses the buttons and changes the channel. It’s a movie. The well-known character in the scene says, “I am a writer”. Is it a sign? I glance down at my Instagram account and my most recent post, a quote about writing by F. Scott Fitzgerald has just been LIKED by Ernest Hemingway’s granddaughter, Mariel. Is it a sign? So I cry. And then I write.

I know that signs are everywhere because my friend Lake tells me they are and Lake is all knowing and wise and intuitive and the one person, more than any other, who is not going to tell you the warm fuzzy thing that you want to hear, but the deep profound thing that you need to hear so that you will grow. It’s been this way since we were in the first grade. So if Lake says there are signs, trust me, don’t try to fight it. There are signs. So I cry. And then I write.

I am seeing the signs. I am listening to them. I am respecting their power. And I will give my words a place to live, a home, worthy of their power, instead of deserting them, scattered throughout the universe and forgotten. I will honor my skill, my talent. I will respect my voice. I will share my stories. So I cry. And then I write.

I have no idea what happens after this. I am terrified at the idea of strangers reading my words. I have no end goal here. I just want to write. And if people read my words and appreciate them, that is truly wonderful. If something I share moves even one person in a positive way, well, that will be beautiful. But I have no expectations. So I cry. And then I write.

And so now, in this very moment, I feel strong and powerful and in control. And the tears have stopped. I’m not crying. Is it a sign?

Time will tell, my beauties. Time will tell. xo lulu