Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Tale of Two Daddies

In the school calendar year 1982-83, I was a long-haired, acrobatically-inclined, sweater-vest-wearing second grader in Miss Glaze's second and third grade split class.  Among other academic exercises, Miss Glaze once assigned us a writing project whereby we were to describe, in two to three short paragraphs, a "missing person" -- without ever naming the individual.  Looking back, I can only guess that the intent of such an assignment was a mastery of adjectives and adverbs, but at the time I simply saw it as a cool thing to do on specially prepared, pre-lined, ten-by-fourteen-inch paper.

The title of the piece was, in fact, "Missing Person," and this was boldly proclaimed at the top of the page, above a roughly four-by-four-inch box where the student could exercise his or her artistic gifts by providing the reader with a sketch or portrait of said "missing person."  I vividly remember sitting there at my east-facing desk, pencil poised thoughtfully in mid air as my second grade brain began to wax literary.  Apparently I had no conception of the link between quality of work and quantity of time invested, for I zealously finished the thing off in about 8 or 9 minutes (including the skimpy, hastily-done pencil sketch) and, if memory serves, probably spent the next 20 minutes of allotted time reading the Boxcar Children while sipping chocolate milk from my red Star Wars thermos.

All of that said, I somehow received a fine mark.  Not only that, but the literary endeavor has received near legendary status in my childhood home, where it hangs framed in my parents' bedroom between pictures of grandparents and certificates of honor.  For the sake of nostalgia, this is how it reads:

This person wears almost the same clothes every day.  Sometimes he goes to the store.  When he reads, he needs glasses.  He has black hair.  And he is the person I mostly sit by on the couch.  Sometimes he takes me to the park on sunny days.

He has yellow teeth.  He is 6 ft. 4 inches.  He has brown eyes and black eyebrows.  He is 47 years old.  But he's the person I'm glad to live with.

This narrative par excellence attempted to describe someone very dear to my second-grade heart:  Daddy.  It contains a certain amount of creative license (my dad was actually 5 foot 10).  I can imagine my forty-something parents immersed in teary-eyed fits of laughter after reading the thing when I proudly presented it.  Only a small child would have the audacity to forever commemorate her father by telling the world he "has yellow teeth" and "wears almost the same clothes every day." 

My Dad was, in fact, a strikingly handsome man.  He did not have yellow teeth.  And he was hygenic and sensible enough to not wear the same clothes every day (although his clothes all looked the same to me).

But I guess my parents framed the thing because they were able -- and I'll use an actual literary phrase here -- "to read between the lines."  Sure, they laughed feverishly when they first got hold of it.  But I imagine that afterward they probably cried a few sincere tears of endearment.  It was, after all, a genuine attempt by a sentimentally awkward second grader to describe her hero.  My parents understood this.  And despite the funny idiosyncrasies, the sweeter side of things are woven into the piece as well:  Images of Daddy taking me to the park, sitting side by side on the couch in the evening, and the expression of simple contentment to have Daddy at home.

Things have come full circle now.  My Daddy has since passed away, and I have a daughter of my own who adores her Daddy.  I think the Lord has given me, in a sense, a way of seeing myself as a little girl with my own Daddy, as I watch Jerry and Lilia.  She waits for him by the front window when she knows he will be home soon.  She reaches into his front shirt pocket, searching for "treats," when he holds her in his arms.  Her contagious laughter echoes through the house when he carries her on his back, running from room to room.  And he is the person she mostly sits by on the couch.

The other night Jerry told me that he had been reading Lilia a story earlier that evening while she sat in his lap.  In this particular story, all of the main characters are bears.  At one point, the Daddy bear arrives home from work, greeting his family.  Upon turning to that page my daughter pointed to Jerry and said, beaming and full of two-year-old pride, "You're my Daddy."

It's enough to melt the stoniest of hearts, and my husband's heart is not stony.  As he related this sweet story to me, his face literally beamed.  It was hard for him to keep from crying.  I could see then what that simple little statement from a pint-sized Peanut meant to him.  Reading between the lines, if you will, it meant this:  "I love my Daddy."

That's what I had meant, too, as I sat there in Miss Glaze's class endeavoring to describe the missing person. The prose was in no way elegant or poetic, but in essence I was saying the same thing that Lilia said to Jerry over the story of a bear family:

"This is my Daddy.  I love him a lot."