A father's hands
When I think about my dad, I think about his hands. He’s got these big strong, calloused hands, and though I have a terrible memory I memorized those hands long ago. I can see the huge knuckles, the coarse dark hair on his fingers, the way his fingernails are always nibbled way down below the skin from a lifetime of quietly fretting over finances and family matters. His hands are often dry and cracked; his wedding ring looks like it was permanently fused to his left ring finger. His fingers often smell like the pipe tobacco he smokes, a scent that fills me with both nostalgia for my childhood and guilt for not being harder on him about that habit.
For the first several years of my life his were the only male hands I would hold. I’m told I broke the hearts of my grandfathers, uncles and close family friends because I refused to have anything to do with them. I was the shy little girl crouched behind her daddy’s leg, holding his hands for safety.
They still make me feel safer than just about anything in this world.
My dad never knew his biological father, never held his hand or even looked him in the eye. To this day the paternal side of his family tree is one ghostly bare branch. His mother was never forthcoming about his father’s identity; over the years the name she told him changed, and her story of him being a police officer killed in the line of duty could never be corroborated with anything in the public record.
Sometimes I try to imagine what my life would be like without those hands in my every memory, without the feeling they gave me, and still do. Because my father doesn’t have such a memory, and how could anyone possibly grow up well without it?
The memory my dad has is an opposite one. It’s a memory from when he was a very young boy, the day his stepfather left him alone on a corner in Times Square, purposely slipped away amid the mass of people and then watched from afar to see what his stepson would do. When I hear this story I ache to run and hold that little boy’s hand, to lead him to safety, to be his shelter and his rock.
And I am in awe that he grew up to be mine.
I think about my father’s hands sometimes when I see Chris holding our sons’ hands as they cross the street or head into a store. “Give Daddy your hand,” he says, and everyone lines up to form a family chain. I look at Chris’s hands and wonder how immense and strong they must feel when they’re wrapped completely around Kostyn's and Evan's hands. I think about how every trip across the street is imprinting that “I’m taking care of you” feeling in their hearts.
It’s what a father does. It’s what a father should do: Be there, to hold your hand. I am so thankful I married a man who does this (and so, so much more), who will forever be their shelter and their rock. He is the perfect proportion of strong and gentle, leader and follower, fan and friend and teacher.
Just like my own dad.
These days Dad holds my heart more than my hand. The last time I saw him he got out his laptop (which has a giant Penn State cover on it, in true “Proud Parent of a PSU Grad” fashion) and said he wanted to show me something. He proceeded to “Google” my name and proudly scrolled through the first few pages of what the search engine turned up. He couldn’t wait to show me my own successes.
I’d Googled my own name before (hasn’t everyone?), but the results looked different that day.
He’s such a dad, I thought as I sat there looking at broken links to outdated stories in publications I no longer work for. But I realized that — He’s such a dad — is about the nicest compliment I can give someone, because of how the word has been defined for me throughout my life.
And I wonder, how did he become what he didn’t have the good fortune to experience first-hand? I’ll never understand that, but I’m so thankful for it. It speaks to the sheer power of fatherhood, how a man with little experience can dig deep within himself and become the parent he wills himself to be. Because every child deserves a strong hand to hold, on every corner and at every turn of his life.
Thanks, Dad, for giving me so much of yourself, but mostly for giving me your hand. I realize now your heart was in it. Happy Father’s Day.
And thanks to my husband, my love, for giving our boys the gift of an incredible father. I love you so much.