Daughters Who Don’t Grow Up With Their Fathers Think Their Dads are Perfect

The man at the end of the pool

“P1010568” by Julie, Dave & Family is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Sometimes I want to show my dad something I wrote. I want to ask him, “Do you think this is funny?” He was really funny. He could see through people’s facades and you couldn’t trick him into thinking you were interesting because you had money.

His favorite bumper sticker was Whoever has the most toys when they die, wins. He shook his head whenever he saw it. I want to invite him to one of my son’s swim meets. Or have some biscuits and gravy with him. He loved those biscuits and gravy. Even writing those words chokes me up, clamps down on my heart.

We’d sit in Ann Sather’s restaurant, our weekly breakfast date, and talk. I don’t remember about what. Anything I say we talked about would be made up. I don’t want to lie about what I remember.

I think he’d be okay with who I am now. I miss his threadbare flannel nightshirts and the hiccup he made when he laughed. I miss how he used to say, “You’re a strange person, Amy” whenever I told him what was on my mind.

He was also a strange person, but that only showed up in his art. His paintings were from another world — cartoonish, political, anti-establishment. In his daily life, he coached my brothers’ t-ball teams, went to temple, bought a house in the burbs. He looked like a totally normal dude. Maybe I do too. Who knows? Who do I even ask?

I never time at my son’s swim meets. I’ve been an official, but I let my qualifications expire because I didn’t like it. I hate disqualifying kids from events even if it’s something they need. That’s what they told us at training. It’s good for the kids. DQ them now and they won’t get DQ’d at state. Most of these kids aren’t going to state so I DQ them now and they get no ribbons and their racing time doesn’t count. No thank you.

My dad was a timer at my swim meets. He loved the gig. I remember him squatting down at the end of the pool, his big smiling face, holding onto his timer like he was at the Olympics. He took his job very seriously.

I remember his timer’s crouch more clearly than I remember anything else about him. Swimming towards him as fast as I could as he held that stopwatch in front of him waiting to click, ready to congratulate me — that memory isn’t going anywhere. I stuffed it into my heart.

Author’s photo

Daughters who don’t grow up with their fathers think their dads are perfect. It’s like an affliction. Maybe that’s why I refused to have long-distance relationships. Because they were agonizing. I don’t like people I love coming and going like that. It’s jarring. It fractures the heart.

This morning I miss my dad. I usually start to miss him the most in March, the month he died, and by his birthday in April, I’m on the floor, surrendering. So today caught me off guard. It’s only February.

Maybe it’s because today my son has a swim meet. They’re always looking for timers. I turn my back when they’re accumulating parents. That’s my dad’s job. I’m almost the age my dad was when he died. Maybe today I’ll pick up a stopwatch. Life is for the living.

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