In honor of Father's Day, next week--and fathers everywhere--something different, today. An essay I wrote about my father in 2004 . . . three years before he passed away.
For you, Daddy:
“It’s full of Magnetic Energy,” my father whispers as he spreads the thin sheet of gauzy fabric on my waterbed. I glance away so he won’t see the doubt in my eyes—how can I tell him that he has no magic for what ails me now? Even if he’s spent a lifetime trying.
A photo album flips open in my mind, faded black and white Kodak snapshot:
1955: Dad, tanned and muscular, curly black hair, movie-star smile, holding a hunting bow. Across his shoulder is a quiver of handmade arrows. I smell singed feathers and watch his fingers deftly glue them to the arrow’s shaft. “It’s called the fletching, sweetheart, and see: they must be exactly straight, or the arrow will not fly true.”
1958: Dad in hip-waders proudly hefting a big mouth bass, a little girl in seersucker shorts and a tee shirt and dark braids squatting on the bank beside him, holding a twig pole. I breathe the rich odor of moldy oak leaves, wood moss and algae. The tick- tick of a reel and the swish- whir of Dad’s fiberglass pole gives me confidence as he casts his line beside me.
Father-Daughter Dance, 1962”: Dad in a suit and tie beside his chubby twelve-year-old daughter, too-big teeth, bushy eyebrows, teetery high heels, first time razor-nicks on her legs. “You are the prettiest girl here, Candy. Now I’ll teach you to fox-trot; it’s one two quick-step, one two quick-step…”
“Do you see, baby?” he asks me, as he smoothes the homeopathic fabric carefully under the spot where I will sleep. “You just lie on it and the Magnetic Energy will move into you; you’ll think nothing is happening, and then you’ll start to feel the warmth. I know it will heal you.” He leans close to me and takes my hand gingerly, like I am a piece of delicate glass. “Good God,” he whispers, “I still can’t believe that horse broke your neck.”
I can’t either, except that in the past few weeks since the accident I have walked slower, my posture skewed a little sideways like a damaged crab released from a fisherman’s net, my right arm a dangling useless claw. I take a breath and feel the reality of the seven fractured ribs, the faint purring sensation of the blood absorbing around my lung.
He looks directly at me now, like I am a little girl who’s crossed the street without checking both ways “I’m glad you’ve sent that horse away--tell me you’re not going to ride anymore, Candy.”
“Sure, Daddy,” I tell him, shaking my head a little at the still unbelievable events of the past eighteen months. “I promise you: no bucking horses, no divorces, no houses in a flood zone…”
Hot tears sting my eyes, and Dad moves toward me. I use my left arm to raise my right arm, spreading my fingers to keep him at bay.
“Don’t. Don’t hug me Dad, it might kill me,” I tell him and we both laugh.
“Then let me tell my daughter a little story,” he says and I think how his voice sounds the same as it did when I was a little girl.
We sit down on the edge of the waterbed, and he begins to talk in that amazing way he has. The words tumble out and take on a life of their own, becoming bigger, grander each moment like a side-show hawker as his arms wave in the air to sweep aside some imaginary canvas curtain. He always had stories, about spacemen, talking leaves, and magic glowworms—
But today I am forty-seven years old with a broken neck, a broken marriage, a surly teenage daughter, and a For Sale sign on my house. What kind of story can my Daddy tell me today? How can I tell him magic glowworms just aren’t magic enough?
Today he tells me real stories. He talks to me about being a parent, an employee, a spouse, and a reluctant senior citizen. He shares regrets, disappointments and broken dreams, dwindling health, a failed marriage to my mother. He talks about starting over. They are his stories; my family’s story, maybe everyone’s story, really. I see how he has come to accept change more gracefully now. How he remembers most vividly the happy times not the bad.
Dad points to my waterbed. “Don’t forget to smooth out the wrinkles before you lie down. It needs to reach your whole spine.”
I walk him to the door and kiss his cheek and tell him goodbye.
“Be patient,” he tells me one last time. “Magnetic Energy takes time.”
Early daylight awakens me and I gaze out my bare window toward the dawn, my favorite time of day. A fine mist is rising over the alfalfa fields behind our property and a heron wings slowly across the quicksilver-orange sky, his long sticklegs trailing lazily behind. Sleep leaves my head, and reality enters too abruptly. I miss my horse. I miss my husband.
I pick up my journal, from a tall stack of journals, and realize how vital writing has become to me. It fills some need in the way food relieves hunger; the way balm soothes a blistered burn.
I force my clumsy right hand to form the loops and connecting lines, willing my fingers to feel the paper beneath the pen. I begin to write about Dad’s visit, about his stories, his stubborn zeal.
And then I feel it. The warmth.
It starts at my feet, and I curl my toes to test it. Yes. It’s really there, and it spreads gloriously upward using my spine as its highway, until it radiates to my shoulders, my neck and into my chest. It fills my heart.
I raise the pen in a half-crazy salute and I laugh out loud. It’s all going to be okay.
Magnetic Energy. It’s not in any piece of fabric. It’s genetic. From Dad to me.
TitleTrakk.com asked the question, "What is the best advice your father gave you?" See what 37 Christian authors (including me) had to say, by clicking HERE.