My father's love lifts me once again

My earliest memories of flight are sweet and pure. The endless hardwood runway between the living room and the back door of our apartment would sting beneath my bare feet as I gathered speed for takeoff. Wind rushed by my face and gently lifted the flaps of my hair up and away from my ears.

Just before liftoff, I'd spread my arms and my heart would beat wildly with the anticipation of contact with my father's strong hands. They hurtled me through space with the thrust of an Atlas rocket. High up over the kitchen table we would go, diving down and grazing the top of my brother's crew cut as he tried to ignore us, back up over the top of our flustered and squawking parakeet's cage, diving again over the top of the coffee table where I, according to the flight plan, was supposed to retrieve the newspaper if I could, and in for a soft landing on the living-room sofa.

By the time I was 7, I was far too old for such nonsense. I'd approach the back door at a leisurely trot, only to find my father already engaged in conversation with my mother, or sorting the mail by the time I arrived. We'd share a quick hug and I'd be back to the Mickey Mouse Club before roll call was over. When he'd come into the living room to fetch his newspaper without my assistance, we'd exchange a glance of regret and disappointment.

Nineteen sixty-three was the year I turned 12, went through puberty, and turned into "a trashy girl." Only trashy girls walked around in short skirts and big hair, my father said, and so I must be a very trashy girl indeed. He broke my heart, and I dropped him like a stone.

By that time, our dinner table had long been a battleground where my radical, idealistic brother played Meathead to my father's Archie Bunker. It was with great glee that I got squarely behind my brother now, and we blasted my father with both barrels straight through the 1960s.

I believe it was between 1968 and '72 that the chasm between my father and me reached its widest point. He stood proudly by the country he'd served during World War II and I vigorously protested Vietnam. He was waving the flag, and I was sewing it onto the fanny of my jeans. He was laying down every dime he had to pay my college tuition, and I was dating a draft dodger who lived in a fur-lined van.

Our darkest hour occurred in 1973, when my mother died. My father and I grieved separately, refusing to share even an emotion, each of us believing that the loss of a mother and the loss of a wife had nothing in common. I moved out of the house three months later, and my father stood in the doorway, blocking my exit. I threw most of my things out of a second-floor window, while my boyfriend stood on the street, catching what he could and stuffing it into his car.

The following year, my father and I stopped fighting just as abruptly as we had begun. I don't know why. Maybe it was because he remarried a very nice woman, and we wanted to make a good impression. Maybe we just wore each other out. All I know is that I started to do what I could to please him, and lied about the rest.

When I turned 31, two amazing things happened on the same day: I gave birth to a daughter, and the father I remembered came back to me. He was there, holding a balloon, when they wheeled me out of the delivery room. When he bent down to kiss my damp forehead, his cheek was also wet, his shields were down, his countenance vulnerable. He was opening his heart to receive whatever I had to give him: my love, this baby, or even my wrath.

He turned his home into a toddler's paradise. There was a sandbox in the shape of a turtle, and a little plastic swimming pool that was always filled several hours before our arrival, so the water could reach the appropriate temperature for his granddaughter's delicate skin. Toys overflowed a laundry basket on the front porch. He bought a "Big Wheel" tricycle with streamers on the handlebars before she could even crawl. Pots, pans, baking dishes, and just about anything that caught his granddaughter's eye became "toys for the baby," which she was allowed to strew throughout every room.

To tell my daughter we were going to visit her grandfather's house was like announcing a trip to Disney World. Her anticipation was so great that the moment I released the buckle of her car seat, she appeared to be shot from a cannon. Her grandfather, who was always waiting for her at the window, would charge down his front steps with arms open wide.

From the moment they collided she was airborne, flying so high through the sky that I thought my heart would burst as I watched them create her earliest memories of flight.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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