Bee’s Knees

When the house phone rings at 8:20 on a weekday morning, there are really only two possibilities as to who will be on the line: Nick or my dad. If Nick is out of town, there’s a good chance it’s him, calling to say hello to the girls before they get on with their day. If Nick is home, it’s definitely my father.

Prior to his retirement last year, my dad did not call us on weekday mornings. In fact, I’m not sure that I can recall a single time when he phoned me while he was at work, ever, unless he needed an immediate answer to a particularly pressing question. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to speak with me, but rather that, when he was at work, he was working – hard – period, the end. Once I graduated college, we chatted fairly regularly, but always after 5 p.m., save for the pressing question times.
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Together on his birthday this year, one of few we’ve been able to celebrate together since moving to Rochester nearly eight years ago.

When my dad phoned us that first Monday after he retired – just because he could, because he wasn’t at the office, didn’t have any meetings to attend, didn’t have an agenda that had to be considered – it was a fun novelty, but I assumed it was a one-off. Lo and behold, however, the calls kept coming; not daily or even weekly, but every couple of weeks, the phone rings at 8-something in the morning and my dad is on the other end.

He doesn’t want to speak with me, though. No, he’s calling to talk to Ella and Annie, and they know it. “Oh – it’s Papa calling again!” they’ll say as they scramble to pick up the phone.

Occasionally, if they’re in a particular rush to get out the door or are moving at a snail’s pace and are behind in their routine, they’ll hear the familiar ringing and whine, “Mom, we’re too busy! Do we have to answer?”

And every single time, my response is, “Yes, you absolutely do.”
And every single time, they do. And, when they hang up, they are glad that they did.
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Kiawah, spring 2015

Because they know why their Papa is calling; I’ve confirmed this, just to be sure.

“Mom, why does Papa call us so much?”

Why do you think he does?

“I don’t know. Because he wants to say hi?”

That’s part of it.

“Because he wants to hear our voices before we go to school?”

That’s another part of it.

“Because he’s retired now so he likes to call just because he can?”

Yep, that’s another…

“Oh! And because he’s thinking about us and he wants us to know!”

Yes, there’s that, too. But you’re forgetting the biggest reason why Papa calls you in the morning.

“What?”

I bet if you really think about it you can figure it…

“Do you mean because he loves us?”

NAILED IT!

“Well, duh. We knew that.

So, to recap, their Papa calls them on school days because he is thinking about them, so that he can hear their voices, and so that he can tell them he loves them. Those are pretty damned good reasons to pick up the phone.

This past year since my dad’s retirement has been, hands down, my favorite of our relationship. Seeing him more often, being able to truly enjoy him and vice versa, has been an incredible gift. I’ve always known that my dad thinks I’m awesome; seeing him pass the same message to my own children is one of the greatest things I know.
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At the girls’ final swim meet of the year, which was in February. Given that my dad and GrandMeg had just come to visit us over Christmas and had – unexpectedly – been able to attend a swim meet, I’d told him that they didn’t have to come all the way back in February to repeat the adventure. My dad’s response: “Are you kidding? We wouldn’t miss it!”

Because that’s what we all want, isn’t it? To know that someone thinks you’re awesome? That you’re the bee’s knees? To believe their feelings down to your core?

Annie and Ella are fortunate enough to have dozens of family members who think that they’re the bee’s knees. Their own daddy is no exception. Nick was away this weekend participating in his annual guys’ day tournament; we’re used to him being out of town, but being gone on a Saturday or Sunday is unfamiliar. When the tournament was first scheduled and I knew that he’d be flying back on Father’s Day, I assumed that he’d sleep in, hang with the guys, take a flight that best suited him, and return later in the day. After all, on Father’s Day, he should spend his time exactly how he wants.

Instead, he booked a 6:30 a.m. flight, landing in Rochester before I’d even awakened… because it was Father’s Day, and what he wanted most of all was to spend it with his kids.

He thinks they’re that awesome. And they know it.

I don’t know much about actual bee’s knees, but I do know that being the bee’s knees feels pretty damned fantastic.
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Father’s Day surf and turf!
I love the way Ella is looking at her daddy in this photo.

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Because I have been thinking of it all day, I would be terribly remiss in not giving a shout-out to another man who thought that Ella, Annie, Nick, his sisters (Nelle and Em) and their families and I were the bee’s knees: my father-in-law, Bill. Today* would have been Bill’s 72nd birthday. A double-whammy: Father’s Day and a birthday. I so wish he were here to celebrate with us – to see his oldest grandson turn five yesterday, to see his middle grandson sing Frozen songs, to meet his youngest grandson, who is just six weeks old.

We love and miss you, Grandpa Bill, and think you’re the bee’s knees, too.
(Which is probably a good thing, because you had bad knees.)
Happy Father’s (Birth)Day!

* This was written on 6/21 but, due to a scheduling snafu (i.e. time for bed!), won’t be published until 6/22…
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grandpa bill laugh
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To the point

It’s *occasionally* been remarked upon that I tend to talk a lot. (Or, as I like to put it, why use a few words when dozens will do?) Sometimes, this is a nuisance – not only for those listening to/reading what I have to say (because there are only so many hours in a day, I get it), but also because my brain simply does not think in small phrases. One of the reasons I have yet to Tweet – despite having a Twitter account so I can follow random celebrities (especially of Harry Potter movies fame *ahem*; also Ken Jennings and Eric Stonestreet are hilarious) – is that I absolutely cannot condense anything into 140 characters. Even ordering a pizza takes me a good while.

On the other hand, being overly loquacious has sometimes come in handy, like when I’m teaching and need to fill the last few minutes of a class with anything to keep the kids occupied. I might have even won several Talk-Offs (you know, those “competitions” where you and an opponent are given random topics to discuss and whoever stops talking first loses. The word “competitions” is in quotes because, people, please), and I carry a certain swagger in my step as a result of those definitive victories.

My father, on the other hand, is a man of few words – and even that might be an overstatement. He’s not one of those stoic, grunted-response kind of guys, but more someone who speaks as succinctly and pointedly as possible. This has certainly gotten him very far in business, but when I was a kid, we didn’t really have a lot of heart-to-heart conversations. (I did tend to use up all of the oxygen in the room, so there’s that.)

As I became a teenager, my relationship with my dad began to change. It’s not necessarily that we began having long, detailed conversations, but rather that I began to appreciate his way of communicating just a bit more. (In fairness, although I think he’s often practically knocked over by the steady stream of words coming out of my mouth, he has always seemed to appreciate that that’s just how I roll.)

He would write me cards for all sorts of occasions – birthdays, milestone events, just because – and, rather than gloss over them because of their lack of expanded prose, I began to see them as perfectly him: direct; to the point; honest. I called them “Dad Cards” and saved every one, tucking some of my favorites into scrapbooks and diaries.

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His penmanship is not quite as clear as his message, but it all evens out in the end.
Somehow, this looks like it was Photoshopped – very weird!

The cards continued all through high school, college, and beyond, with more and more arriving for no reason at all other than that he wanted to let me know I was on his mind. A cute card, a few words (unlike the paragraphs I would write to my friends). Each time I received one, it was like a smile coming through the mail.

In addition to the cards, with the advent of cell phones, my dad began calling and leaving voicemail messages. Some asked me to call him back because he had a matter to discuss with me, but more often than not they simply said, “I just wanted you to know that I’m thinking about you. Talk to you later!” 

As email has taken on increasing importance, so, too, has my dad adopted communicating with me electronically – in brief. Every once in a while, I’ll receive a message that requires me to actually scroll past one screen on my iPhone, but the vast majority are one or two liners that convey exactly what he’s trying to say. In fact, because he now frequently sends them via iPad – a device whose keypad is not exactly conducive to typing long diatribes – his emails are consistently just a few words per email. (For example, to comment on one of my blog entries, I’ll receive an email whose subject line is the title of the blog and whose message says: “Great post” or “Never knew you liked olives.”)

Just as often, he’ll forward me an article from the Wall Street Journal with no preamble or additional writing at all. Although I usually understand why he’s forwarded me the story (Ah, yes, a discussion of Disney Cruises), I’ll sometimes have no idea if the article was meant as an encouragement or an admonishment (Wait, does he think I should be drinking Starbucks beverages daily, or is this a subtle hint that maybe I’ve got a problem?).

No matter, the underlying message remains the same: You’re on my mind. You’re awesome. And I love you.

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Vermont, 2011

My dad and I do talk a lot more these days than we used to when I was growing up – like, actual, for real, back-and-forth conversations. Admittedly, I’m probably responsible for 85% of the words used between us, and his responses are still short and sweet – but hey, old habits die hard. At least there’s dialogue.

Still, despite our increased discourse, some of my very favorite communications – not just from my father, but from anyone on the planet – are the brief cards, emails, and voicemail messages from him that are so perfectly Dad. There’s no one (at least, no one I know) who doesn’t enjoy being remembered, being thought of. Far harder (for me, anyway) is actually taking the time to reach out and let that person know that they’re on your mind.

For a man of few words, my dad is an expert at this. He has taught me that communication comes in all forms, and that sometimes, bigger isn’t better. Obviously, I haven’t quite managed the art of this myself, but I know my dad doesn’t care. (Although if I receive the link to a Wall Street Journal article detailing the detriments of too much talking, perhaps I’ll change my mind…)

So, this post is my very long-winded way of simply saying:
I know this is a day late, Dad, but I’m thinking about you.
You’re awesome.
And I love you

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My first birthday, 1976.
I am undoubtedly getting ready to say something to him.

What He Does

He introduces them to Van Morrison and Van Halen; they know all of the words to “Crazy Love.”

He plays guitar and sings with them; sometimes, they sing in harmony.

He teaches them the “right” way to throw a football into a spiral, hold a bat to hit a ball, wield a hockey stick, and kick a soccer ball.

He cannot wait to show them every episode of “Trip Flip” and wishes that I’d give my okay to sharing “Bar Rescue” with them, too. (Not gonna happen.)

He takes a shower in the master bathroom (the tub with the plastic shower curtain and the single shower head, which he does not like) rather than the “main” bathroom (the large tile shower with the multiple, awesome shower jets, which he far prefers) so that he doesn’t risk awakening the girls when he has to catch an a.m. plane at the perfectly wrong time.

He agrees, without the slightest hesitation, to fully assume kid and dog duty in the morning, presiding over breakfast and get-to-school wrangling, every morning that I teach.

He laces up their skates so that they are just tight enough to support their ankles and never come untied (unlike a certain Mommy we know who has no patience for tightening things properly).

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He never, ever refers to being with the girls as “babysitting.”

He compliments the girls on their personalities, their intelligence, their wit, their humor, their efforts, and their accomplishments far more than he does their appearance.

He still makes sure to tell them that they are beautiful, often.

He volunteers as a Math Fact Helper whenever there’s a need, quizzing third graders on multiplication and division tables before he goes to the office. The first graders requested that he return as a Science Action volunteer because he was so funny the first time he came in.

He attends Daddy/Daughter dances even though he really doesn’t want to, because they want to, and never complains about it (to them, anyway).

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He never misses calling or FaceTime-ing the girls whenever he’s out of town, asking about their days (if there’s time) or, at the very least, making sure to catch them before bedtime to wish them good night. (Well, except for that one time he didn’t call, and that didn’t go over so well, and now he never misses calling. Voila!)

He phones the girls every morning before school if he’s off on a business trip, even if it means awakening at some ungodly hour because he’s in another time zone.

He brings them back trinkets from each trip he takes – partly to soften the sting of his being gone, partly because the man cannot resist purchasing stuff, and partly because it’s their thing now, shared between the three of them.

He coaches first grade soccer with humor, encouragement, and patience that I know I do not possess. (As a teacher, this is saying something; mad props, man.)

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He’s far more likely than I (by, oh, a million times) to buy something completely unnecessary when he and the girls are out, either because they were clamoring for it or because he just couldn’t help himself from loading the air hockey table into his cart; they know this, and they love it.

He introduces the girls to iPad games, which they could play with him – over his shoulder – for hours on end. I sometimes complain when they’re glued to the screen “helping” him build a city or defeat an army or whatever it is they do, but really, aside from it being electronic, is this so different than a game of Risk?

He has never – not once – hinted that he’s even remotely upset that he doesn’t have a son. In fact, sometimes I think he prefers having only daughters.

He tickles and pokes and roughhouses in ways that drive me absolutely insane but that the girls not only love, but need.

He apologizes to them and he means it.

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He never misses an opportunity to loudly call the girls by their absurd, imaginary nicknames (Vanessa Stinkbottom and Julianna Snotnose), choosing his moments carefully so as to inflict maximum embarrassment (but never too much).

He’s starting to swear a little more around them; sometimes I admonish, sometimes I don’t. The girls just think it’s funny.

He invites them to curl up on his lap when they’ve become overwhelmed or sad or tired; they almost always accept.

He graciously escorts them from dinners and gatherings for a little alone time when it’s clear that they’ve just had enough.

He will not fix their hair. Ever.
Coincidentally, they’ve grown quite good at fixing their own hair. Funny, that.

He makes certain to spend time with them individually.

He is better at getting them to bed on time than I am.

He is sure to give them hugs when he’s accidentally bonked them in the nose with the Track Ball ball.

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He oohs and ahhhhs over every gift and present, homemade to recycled (“I just knew you’d want this old gum wrapper collection!”) to the items that were actually on his wish list, and every one is treated with the same amount of appreciation and enthusiasm.

He has different secret handshakes with both of them.
I don’t know what they are.
Because they’re secrets. Duh.

He tells them that they are awesome, every single day.

He tells them that he loves them, every single day.

He tells them that he loves being their daddy, every single day.

They tell him that they love being his kids – and, oh, how they do.

He will be missing his own dad this Sunday – his dad who was so tremendously proud of him as a father – and, damn it all, there is nothing that we can do to take that ache and sadness away.

But we can celebrate him anyway because, by God, he deserves it.

He is the very best daddy they could ask for, the very best father I could hope for them, and we are so lucky that he is ours.

We’ve also got a few Father’s Day gifts up our sleeves (fingers crossed that Annie remembered that item he wanted at EMS… It was kind of touch and go in there for a while…). Even if we get it wrong, I know he’ll smile and thank them and pull them in for a hug. And then probably tickle them until they scream.

Because that’s what he does.

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A Few Good Men

When I was a kid and Father’s Day rolled around each year, the only person I made rubber-cement-and-glitter cards for and gave “WORLD’S GREATEST DAD” mugs to was my own dad. My grandfathers were dads, of course (the word father being in grandfather is helpful; thank God for college), but they were my parents’ dads, so I didn’t really give it much thought. And although my mom always made certain that my father received gifts from my brother and me (likely with input from us; lots of ties, if I’m remembering correctly – sorry, Dad), I still viewed him as my dad — or my brother’s and my dad — and not really as a person connected to anyone else.

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It never occurred to me that, in addition to thinking of her own father on Father’s Day, my mom might also be thinking of the man who was the father of her children.

Until Nick and I had kids of our own.

Suddenly, Father’s Day became a time to not only remember my father (although I’ve moved beyond ties), but a time to celebrate Nick (and by “celebrate” I mean, at the very least, that he doesn’t have to feed the dogs in the morning; I’ve always been generous). And I find that pretty damn cool, in a whole circle-y, past, present, and future way (don’t worry, I’m not getting all new-agey or anything. It’s just kind of neat is all).

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My dad and Nick really couldn’t be more different, and it’s truly a great testament to both of them that, despite these differences — in personality, in political beliefs, in likes and dislikes — they get along so well. And it’s also a testament to my dad, to both of my parents, that they clearly encouraged me (and my brother) to search for partners in life who best-suited us and made us happy, rather than fitting some kind of pre-determined mold that they created for us.

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And yet… There are similarities. My dad and Nick both make me laugh. They make me smile. They make me shake my head at their ridiculousness. They make me think, often when I don’t want to (which, I’ll reluctantly admit, can really be the most important time to think). They support me (or at least don’t disown me) through all of my crazy decisions. They make me feel lucky that I have them in my lives, and they make me incredibly grateful that Ella, Annie, and I get to have them as our fathers (even when they make us sigh and roll our eyes). Perhaps most of all, they love us, their daughters, unconditionally and wholly.

Happy Father’s Day to two of the best fathers I know, and certainly to the two I love the most.

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That’d be my brother with us.

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I would be highly remiss today in not mentioning my superb father-in-law, who also makes me do all of the things above, especially laugh. And think. He’s much more than just a father-in-law to me – he’s Bill – and is one of the three best dads I know. And certainly the third I love the most.

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