He'd get down on all fours and let me climb on his back and ride him around the living room.
He picked me up every time I asked, until that one time when he said I was too big.
He stayed up till after 2 a.m. that time I was in the fourth grade advanced program, trying to figure out that "new math" math problem.
He spanked me with a plank of wood when I was six and changed my conduct grade from a "U" to "O" (using the wrong shade ink - d'oh!).
He grounded me from the radio for 9 weeks when I failed every class the first grading period of sixth grade. I was a week shy of the end of that banishment, lying on the floor of my bedroom, working on my science fair three-fold poster-board, singing along with the newest New Kids On The Block tape (which Momma had bought for me as some sort of reward I didn't really deserve), when he came in, pointed at the stereo and said "I thought I was clear?", meaning "What the fuck are you doing listening to the stereo when I clearly grounded you from that shit for 9 weeks and we're only eight weeks into it, young lady?!"
He taught me to love Rock -n Roll; specifically, The Beatles. I'll never hear a Beatles tune without thinking "I love ya, Daddy."
When he turned 37, he said, "My dad died when he was 36. I always wondered if I'd make it to 37."
When I was 16, my oldest cousin on his side of the family got married. He took me on a drive and told me how his dad had died saving his life. I said, "Does Momma know?" "Natalie, I've been blessed to have a lot of great friends in my life, but your mother is the best friend I could ever hope for, and the best friend I'll ever have. I tell her everything. I can tell her anything."
He taught me what love is supposed to look like.
He showed me how love is supposed to feel.
He was downsized from his job as a corporate executive at Black & Decker and took a job delivering newspapers to stay busy while hunting for full-time work. At a family gathering, I described him as a "paper-boy". He held his tongue until we were on our way home. I'm still ashamed of the way my words made him feel that day. I'm still proud of the fact that he respected himself enough to share with me the way my words made him feel.
I was 20 and Momma wanted an electric knife for Christmas. The only one I could find was made by Black & Decker. I told Daddy, on Christmas Eve, and he was aghast. "Seven years ago, do you know what that company did to this family? They pulled me into a boardroom the day before Christmas Eve and told me I could either resign my position or I'd be terminated. They replaced me with two 21 year olds with college degrees. You have to take that knife back." And that's how I found myself scouring every Meijer and Walmart and Target within a 30-mile radius for an electric knife on Christmas Eve 2000. For the record, I found a non-Black&Decker one and the holiday was saved.
I was 21 and back home after a brief stint as a "grown-up". I stayed out all night, arriving home at 7:30 or so to take my morning shower and head to work. He met me at the front door; Momma was already gone for the day. "Don't you ever do that to your mother again. She was up all night worried about you." He was genuinely pissed that I'd hurt his wife. I don't know if I've ever felt so small or put in my place.
I'm a teenager, smart as hell but too smart for school, failing every class even though I've got the highest test scores; I'm sitting at the breakfast bar, he's standing across from me. "I'm just so disappointed, Natalie. I work to give you every opportunity - what else do I need to do for you, to make you try?" Fuck, I was such an asshole.
The day before my driving test, I've had my permit for 6 months. After a 20 minute tutorial in my high school's parking lot, he takes me to Bob & Cindy's hood in the Highlands (where the hippies live). The homes all have street parking, no driveways. He directs me to an open spot between a Mercedes and a BMW and reminds me to turn the wheel when the side mirrors line up with the taillights - and I nail it. The next day, he parks the van and says "It'd be a shame to have come all the way out here for nothing..." and I sign up for my exam. I ace it - no points missed on parallel parking, I note specifically.
He holds my hand as we walk into my 3rd grade classroom - all I can see are the cursive alphabet letters crawling across the top of the walls. OMG, I don't even recognize the letters!!! "Daddy, I don't think I can do this..." I whisper up to him. He's so tall, so strong. He squeezes my little hand and whispers back, leaning in toward me, "Yes, you can." He was right. I did.
Michigan, May 2002 -"Mom, we want to get married June 15. I know it's just a few weeks, but it's the only weekend that works before his sister leaves for Europe." "Well, I don't think your Dad will be able to get off work." Que waterworks/hysteria. I called Daddy - "Daddy, we want to get married June 15th and Momma says you won't be able to get off work but it's the only day that works and I can't get married without you!!!" "Natalie, do you think I'd miss my baby girl's wedding? You pick whatever date works for you, and I'll be there, don't you worry, sweetheart." Of course he was.
Phoenix, February 2006 - "Daddy, I'm so sorry. I feel like I've let you down, I'm so sorry." "Sweetheart, stop that. I'm just so sorry you're having to go through this, and we just can't wait to have you back home. I love you."
July 2006 - "What are you doing with yourself, Natalie?"
April 2010 - "I worried about you, if you'd find your way. But you have, and I'm so proud of you."
Some words are worth waiting a lifetime to hear.
God, I hope I've made him proud. I'll never have the words to express how much he means to me, or how much better my world his because he's my Daddy. I just hope he knows I love him.