It’s not wrapped, but here it is anyway, Dad

I remember looking at my father when I was nine months pregnant, realizing suddenly his imminent promotion to grandfather.  The title seemed so daunting to me, wise and serious, almost royal: he was to be the Grand Dad of Oliver.  He was sitting a few feet away from me, and I suddenly saw him as if through a zoom lens, the silver of his glasses matching the grey of his hair; then the lens moved to his hands and they reminded me of being a child and marveling at my own grandfather’s hands, the beautiful texture of the hands of the Old.

But my dad’s not old!  In that moment, the swirling cycle of life had suddenly become a roller coaster, one that I couldn’t control, one that I am reminded of now, every time I look into my son’s large, newborn eyes.  Recognizing my father as a grandfather for the first time thrilled and scared me almost to tears.

Now, one month after the delivery, my dad is holding my son in his lap.  They are looking into each other’s eyes.  My dad speaks in a voice I don’t quite recognize, but the words and the higher pitch are familiar in the same way your heart might be familiar if you were to find it beating next to you—not because you’ve seen it before, but because it’s been such an intimate part of you for so long.  He plays patty-cake and Tom Tinker as my four-week old, inasmuch as four-week olds can, looks on.

My sister smiles.  I feel loved, she says.  Just looking at Dad, the close attention, the smiles, the sing-songy voice.  How thoroughly and wonderfully cared for we must have been.

And sitting next to her, I realize that this feeling we share is what is familiar in the higher pitch of my dad’s voice: it is my childhood.  It is the feeling of time travel, of reliving years I was too young to remember.

Like many fathers, my dad played the macho role in our family of two daughters and three female cats.  The soft, lovey-dovey stuff was left to Mom: Dad’s love was coated in comedy.  He would congratulate me on a game well played, and I know he must have cheered me on, but I remember more fondly the way he talked when the games weren’t going as well.  “We want a pitcher, not a belly-itcher”, he’d actually cry from the stands after I walked a batter or two.  “Hit the showers, pitch,” he’d call if a few more took the base on balls.  If I told him this now, he’d just say that’s what I remember because we never won any games.  True, perhaps, but I think it’s also what I remember because that’s how we related to each other—love, hope, and family masked in the machismo of the light-hearted.

Later, he downplayed the grandkids.  “I’m in no hurry to have grandkids,” he’d say more often than meddling parents would ask for them.  I almost fell for it.  When I got pregnant, I could hear the excitement in his voice, but he continued the charade.  As the due date approached, he made a point to explain that he didn’t want to be anywhere near the delivery room.  “And if it’s in the middle of the night, just call me in the morning.”  And yet, nine months into it, there he was, driving me to the hospital just before midnight, waiting up until the early morning just outside my door.

Having only recently earned the title of Mother, I am at the point in my relationship with my son in which he loves me, if not unconditionally, then at least on the very few conditions that I keep feeding and holding him.  But our relationship is just beginning, and I smile to think about how much my relationship with my dad has evolved since I once required only food and hugs from him.  From the authority who coached my basketball team in fifth grade to the friend I invite to baseball games.  From the clueless adult who was SO wrong about boys when he introduced me to one in seventh grade, to the one who turned out to be right when I married the same one sixteen years later.  From the clown who armors his love with sarcasm to the soft-hearted guy who melts in his grandson’s gaze.  In my son’s grandfather, I am reacquainted with the sweet, uncomplicated love with which I have always been blessed.

Father’s Day was always celebrated at our house, but never with as much gusto or as many pancakes served in bed as Mother’s Day.  The same testosterone that yells at you when you throw to first instead of second ensures that Mother’s Day is a much more marketable enterprise than its June equivalent.

But this year, Father’s day has new meaning for me.  It is now Grandfather’s Day, and I hope that everyone celebrates it with the appropriate number of ugly ties and plastic singing fish.  Given to hyperbole in my youth, my Father’s Day cards were always addressed to the “greatest dad in the world”, or sometimes for more emphasis, the “whole world”, or even the “whole universe.”  But even so, I still never really knew how lucky I was.  Now, at age 31, as I stay up all night with my own screaming son, I am beginning to find out.

I had hoped that having a child would teach me how to be a mother; I never thought it could also teach me so much about being a daughter.  I listen to another round of patty-cake and smile.  I couldn’t feel luckier than I do right now, my life bookended by two wonderful guys.

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