Dad and his Grandmother

This Sunday is Father’s Day, and my dad’s birthday is next Wednesday, June 22. This is my gift to him.

Thirty-seven years ago my dad made a choice that changed our lives. He was just 28 years old, and my mom had been killed in a horrific car wreck. I was 3.

Dad won’t admit that he made a choice at all; he insists that it never occurred to him to do anything but raise me on his own. Yet in the early 1970s, a young widower raising a daughter solo was far from the norm. And I believe that our every action is a choice, and so I’ve always seen it as a choice he made.

Was it hard? Yes, definitely. My teenage years were particularly painful for us both. Did he make mistakes? Sure, plenty of them. Show me a parent who has not.

My husband and I were talking about gratitude the other day, specifically about kids showing their parents gratitude (or not). When I affirmed that I am grateful to my dad, my astute husband asked me how I demonstrate that to him, how any kid does. It’s a fantastic question, and my best answer is that I show my father my gratitude by living the best life I can.

Which I can do because of the lessons he taught me. Because he was always the best dad he could be.

My dad didn’t shield me from the world. I watched R-rated movies. Read “adult” books. Over-listened to him and his friends discussing work and politics. This is not to say he didn’t protect me—he did—but by letting me see the world around me, he taught me to cope. To understand that we cannot bend the world to our will. That sometimes things happen that we just have to deal with.

Green Lake Library

My dad talked constantly about the importance of reading. He still does. And he shored up his talk with actions. I spent hours in the Green Lake branch of the Seattle Public library. About once a week when I was growing up, we would go out to dinner (The Frankfurter was my favorite) and then make a circuit of small independent bookstores in Seattle’s University District (this was long before book superstores) . We didn’t buy a lot of books—money was tight—but we browsed and I found books I would then check out of the library. Dad taught me that the best way to pick a book was to open it to the middle and read a page, because the jacket description doesn’t tell you whether you’ll like reading it, and the first pages can be deceiving.

Dad also taught me to love ice cream. Sounds like a small thing—and definitely not in any manual of How to Rear Children—but he would bring me to Baskin-Robbins, where he would patiently read me each of the 31 flavors, even though my selection was the same every time (mint chocolate chip). As a result, eating ice cream has always been a joy for me. Dad also instilled in me a joy in making things. We made soap once—from scratch—and candles, and he used to make pizza dough starting with actual flour and water.

My dad also gave me a love of history and deep appreciation of Ireland, the land of our ancestors. He named me after the country, and shared his profound knowledge of W.B. Yeats’ poetry. He endowed me with a spirit that is uniquely Irish, and I am reminded of this every time I step off the plane in Dublin. I think this was fate’s way of preparing me for my Irish family.

The most important lesson my dad taught me is that we each are given control over our own actions and opinions. We can sometimes influence others, but if each individual was to do the right thing, the world would be a much better place. And that begins with me. It’s sometimes a tall order, but I try to remember this.

I was thrilled when my dad remarried, interestingly in the same year I married the love of my life. Dad’s wife is a smart, funny, and kind woman who has infinite patience for his foibles. She has a daughter, and so Dad got to be a dad again. My stepsister has two beautiful young sons now, and Dad revels in being “Granpa.”

I’m blessed to have married a man who is also an extraordinary father. As I watch him sometimes struggle with his relationship with his kids, I know that I am able to recognize his heart because I was raised by my own dad.

For all these things and many others, I thank my dad.