Even though my family of origin was pretty dysfunctional, one of my favorite pastimes, when I’m feeling a bit low, is to remember stories about my dad and how he honored my feelings and held them close to his heart.
I always jumped at the chance to be with Dad in his room—the Gun Room. It was a treat to steal away with him when he went upstairs to his room. He kept guns, cameras, family photos and film equipment, and special sentimental pieces from his childhood there. I am certain he kept us out for our own protection when it came to the guns. We were all told the only time we were allowed to go in there by ourselves was if the house was on fire and we could safely get the family’s 8mm films out and save them from being destroyed. Other than that, the Gun Room was strictly off limits. Whenever I saw him in there, I would beg to join him. And he always obliged. While he worked away on whatever project he was concentrating on, I looked around his private sanctuary with marvel. I would fold my arms behind my back holding tightly on to my wrists, just to make sure I did not touch anything. I did not want to run the risk of inadvertently grabbing for something and causing harm.
One of the items I often searched out was a stuffed bird, about the size of my palm, with wild ostrich feather plumage glued onto it. Dad kept it secured away in a glass cabinet I was completely mesmerized by its splendor. It was so odd to see this delicate piece of fluff surrounded by items dedicated to hunting and killing animals. I made stories up in my mind about why this fragile object was set apart with reverence and displayed only for Dad’s eyes to see. Was it a gift from a princess he had rescued from the grips of a ferocious dragon? Was it a piece of treasure he had found while hunting with Indians? My imagination knew no boundaries.
I figured—with all the wisdom that a four-year-old could have—that since Dad liked it so much, I should give it to him again. Father’s Day was quickly approaching and, lucky for me, Dad and I were already in his room, so I had access to the sacred bird. When Dad was not looking, I carefully walked over to the display case and opened it. Slowly, I reached into the case and carefully grabbed the stuffed bird. I held it in my tiny hands as if it were precious jewels. I abruptly left and took my stolen booty to my bedroom. Securing the bird in a safe place, I left my room to bring back newspaper and masking tape. With all the care I could muster, I wrapped the stuffed bird as his Father’s Day gift. I was sure he would be thrilled with my present.
On Father’s Day, after dinner was finished, Mom and Dad were having their coffee and The Boys ran out to play. I ran upstairs to bring down my special gift for Dad. Standing before him I ceremonially offered him my carefully wrapped package. He looked at the crumpled ball of newspaper encircled with bands of masking tape and pulled me up into his lap so I could have the perfect view of the unveiling. As he carefully unwrapped the mound of tape and paper, he revealed the soft, fragile stuffed bird that I had taken from his glass cabinet. He paused, smiled and said that he loved it. Thank you for the perfect present, Robbie. This is such a cute bird. I’ll keep it forever! With that, he smothered me with hugs and kisses. I strutted away as if I had just been awarded a national medal for being the most loving and awesome child of the year.
Later that summer, we began to prepare to celebrate Dad’s birthday that September. He never wanted much of a fuss, but we enjoyed honoring him the best we could. I had no idea how to out-gift Father’s Day. Then the answer came to me. One day while he was in the gun room, I asked to come in so I could see his precious treasures. Again, I carefully opened the display case and grabbed the feathered masterpiece. And as before, I took it to my room and wrapped it with newspaper and masking tape.
When the time came for presents after dinner, I made sure I was at the front of the pack. Dad, once again, scooped me and my ball of newspaper and masking tape up and pulled me on his lap.
Then he opened the present.
When he saw all the plumage and beautiful colors, he never missed a beat. He raved on about how beautiful this present was and how he was so pleased that I knew just what he liked. He never let on that he recognized the bird from the glass case in his room or that he even knew I had taken it. Instead, he made a fuss over me and my re-re-gifted item that had already belonged to him. He made me feel like I had offered him the moon and it was the most special gift he ever received.
In my preschool mind, life with my dad was the most perfectest life ever.
I have so many wonderful memories of my father. With Father’s Day around the corner, I will—just like every year—miss his hugs. Memories will have to be enough.
If possible, find something to thank your father for. You’ll be glad you did.
Even in the most dysfunctional family, there are good memories. What stories do you carry in your heart?
(Re-posted from June 2012)