I can hear the ring of the telephone a few times on the other end of the line before anyone answers……
I just received a rarely seen email from my uncle who continues to resist the use of modern technology like email and cell phones. I think Hell will freeze over before he pays one red cent for a Txt Msg, but first someone will have to explain to him exactly what a Txt Msg is. Among the other miscellaneous trivia and current events contained therein, his email made reference to this date in family history which reminded me that today, August 3rd, is the 28th anniversary of my father’s passing after a short fight with cancer. I am not one to memorialize things so this caught me a little by surprise and got me to thinking ‘bout stuff.
I was 12 when my father died. A couple years earlier, my mother and step-father were married at a Baptist retreat in California. They spent their honeymoon in separate cars driving across country to our new home in NH with my brother and I keeping them company as co-pilots. We had a couple of years to re-establish a ‘normal’ family structure and routine with my step-father in place before my father passed at a Military Hospital in Texas, a good comfortable time and distance away.
When I think of my biological father, my memories seem more like a small collection of photographs. They come to mind almost like still images. I was young, so the memories are relatively quiet. He worked long, hard hours for the Air Force so the pictures in my mind are few, though invaluable. Over the years, I have managed to piece together quite a lot about the man he was through pictures and stories. More recently, I was able to compile old paperwork that would prove to document his brief, but dedicated military career that lasted those first 12 years of my life. Things start to make more sense over time, my uncle once said…. I think that’s true.
And then came Daniel. When I first met him, he was just “Dan”. Then, he was “The guy that’s dating my Mom”. Next, he moved with us to California for a year of living-in-sin (yah, I said it!) before he and Mom married and he officially became my stepfather … and back to “Dan” again. There was a time when I didn’t know what terms to use when the subject of my family tree came up with friends. After I took the sorta awkward leap from calling him “Dan” to “Dad” I remember stumbling to make the distinction between my fathers as “Dad-Dad” vs “Dan-Dad.” One day I referred to my biological father as “Real Dad” from which sprouted the sarcastically affectionate moniker “Fake Dad”.
Well, Fake Dad just turned 83. His body is tired. He has aches that plague him along with all the doctor appointments he has to keep. Unfortunately, he can’t blow out a birthday candle big enough to wish the pains away. As I’ve been trying to think of the perfect belated birthday present, my mind fills with memories…. Watching him shuffle along behind the snow-blower while my brother and I manned the shovels… seeing him in ridiculously tattered jean shorts and an ugly golf hat paddling in the back of the family canoe for a day of fishing on Grafton Pond… the never ending project of painting the house, also wearing a goofy looking plastic derby covered with four leaf clovers… occasional stolen moments for a man-to-man conversation in the car on the way to pick up a pizza… and the day he came to check on me where I sat on a rock across the parking lot of the funeral home at my father’s memorial service. I can hear his voice and his laugh. Unfortunately, his singing voice also rings in my ears.
He is not what you’d call a ‘silver-tongued-devil’, despite the many years he tormented us with vocabulary quizzes from the back pages of the Reader’s Digest. But I’ve always found his words to be honest, self-respecting, and straight-forward. He doesn’t take shit from people. “Do unto others…”, “If you borrow something, you should return it in at least as good condition as you got it”, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”, “Did I stutter?”…. the list goes on, and our eyes all roll at the thought of it.
My family tree is a little messy. I don’t care. For all that happened way back then, I have never thought that I missed anything or came from a ‘broken’ home. Sure I’d like to have known my father better and to have talked with him as an adult, but Daniel F. Cunningham has secured his place in my heart as my Dad.
That being said, I still haven’t got a satisfactory gift idea. I’m trying to think of one that reflects how much he means to me. I’ll keep working on that. In the meantime, better give him a call…
… Finally, someone picks up:
“Hello?” he answers.
“Hi Dad! I just wanted to call and say Happy Birthday!
“What, no gift??”
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