My earliest memories of my father consist of Tighty Whities, white t-shirts, laying on the couch and watching reruns of Star Trek. That was what I woke up to most weekend mornings growing up. In those early years, I wore to bed what my Dad wore to bed, underwear and a t-shirt. I would walk down the hall rubbing the sleep from my eyes and head to the Rec-room where I would find Dad laying on the couch, still in the Tighty Whitey/T-shirt sleep uniform, with a blanket over him that was handmade for the family by one of the residence at the nursing home in which my mom worked. He would see me and lift the blanket as a way to say come snuggle with me and watch TV. I remember feeling loved as he wrapped the blanket around both of us and clung to me with his big Popeye arms. He was watching reruns of Star Trek, which I dreaded watching because I did not understand what was happening, but I loved laying there with my Dad.
Also during those early years, my family took a road trip that would make the most patient person beg for mercy. We drove our large Chevy van from Seattle to Pennsylvania to Washington DC to Florida and then back to Seattle. There are only so many times that three boys under the age of nine can play Highway Bingo, I-See-See, License Plate Game and whatever else we came up with while putting a year’s worth of miles on the van in a three week span. On this trip I vividly remember my Dad carrying me on his shoulders as we walked around Disneyworld in Florida. He picked me up with those same Popeye arms, placed me on his shoulders and made sure I used my hands as a chinstrap to hold myself in place and not fall off. I remember the scruff of his pudgy cheeks and chin on my hands and wrists. I remember thinking my Dad is the strongest Dad here because no other father had their child on his shoulders.
My Dad coached our little league baseball team, the Eagles. He still has the ball the team signed for him as a thank you displayed in his office. He coached our pee-wee football team, the Kenmore Lions. He loved watching his boys compete in whatever the sport, or activity.
When parents divorce there is enough pain and heartache to stop a train. Weekend visits were awkward, too short and a horrible way to spend time with Dad because I felt forced to make the most of our time together instead of just being present with him. And as much as I disliked weekend visits for the awkwardness, I know that many years of those visits were stolen from me.
From ages 12-17, I did not see or hear from my Dad, and when we finally reconnected the relationship had been badly damaged. Every conversation, every meal together, every holiday and birthday felt forced, clumsy and foreign. Dad and I stumbled through the next 15 years of our relationship trying to reestablish what was, or could have been. When Dad watched me play football in college, it was the first time he’d seen me play since pee-wee football when I was 8 years old. Dad worked the graveyard shift at the post-office and would drive four hours to Linfield, watch me play, take me to dinner and then head back north. By the time he arrived home he had not slept for 24 hours.
In the Fall of 2010, Dad and I had a breakthrough in our long journey of trying to repair our relationship. I had been in counseling for depression for a little over a year, a fact that I believed my Dad was aware of, but when I dropped him an email that mentioned counseling and the goals I had for healthier relationships, I realized I had forgotten to tell him. Dad wasted no time, as his loving, caring, nurturing and always helpful personality sprung into action. He took me to lunch and asked questions, offered assistance and most importantly allowed me to ask questions and he answered honestly. Up to this point in my life, it was the most real, truthful and healing conversation I had ever had.
For the next five years Dad and I grew closer and closer. It was still difficult at times as it felt like we were pretending the missing years never happened, but slowly we managed to call each other more often. I’d try to stop in Port Orchard anytime I was driving through the south sound region. Dad came to the Veteran’s Day assembly at my school a few times, and was always one of my biggest supporters in my efforts to fight cancer through Relay For Life.
Perhaps the happiest my Dad had been for me was when my wife Kirsten entered my life. From the moment he met Kirsten, he always called her an Angel. He took joy in asking her, “Has anyone told you how beautiful you are today?” And when she replied, “Not today,” he’d look at me with humorous disappointment and ask me, “What’s wrong with you? She’s an Angel.” Dad always had flowers from his garden to give Kirsten and was quick to get in his father-in-law flirtations. I would joke with him about how Kirsten was mean to me when he was gone and he would jokingly look at me in anger and say, “How dare you? She’s an Angel.” Dad finished every single phone conversation by saying, “Kiss the girl for me.”
Leading up to Kirsten and I’s wedding I asked Dad if he would like to give a speech or a toast at the rehearsal dinner. He stared at me silent for a moment and asked if I was sure that’s what I wanted. Of course it is. And he replied that it’d be an honor, but as the day rolled up Dad came to me, his eyes saddened and filled with tears. He asked if it was ok that he did not give a speech or toast. He was having trouble memorizing everyone’s names and did not want to mispronounce anything or embarrass me. As tears began to stream down his face he said, “I’m sorry. I feel like I’m disappointing you.” No Dad, I love you.
I will cherish my memories of my Dad from this past year. From the moment my wife Kirsten and I bought our house my Dad was more than eager to help with yard work and home improvements. Just two weeks after the sale closed, he was there early one Saturday morning cutting sticker bushes and organizing the contents of an old storage shed. We worked hard for five hours and called it a day. We ate lunch and Dad drove home. When he called to schedule his next Saturday work session, I was stubborn in my desire that the next time Dad come out, he should meet us school Friday afternoon. Then come out with some coworkers for drinks (which we call Spanish Club so the students don’t know what we are talking about), stay the night with us and then we can work in the morning. He tried to say no, but once Kirsten asked him, he had no choice.
Dad came to school on Friday and I walked him around during my prep period and introduced him to everyone. People were amazed at our size difference but could see the family resemblance. After school the bell rang and students rushed to the buses, all except one. One of my 9th grade female Algebra students came back to my room. I asked her if she forgot something and she said no as she walked right by me. She walked up to my Dad and said, “Sir, I heard Mr. Adams’ Dad was here and I just wanted to meet you. Because if Mr. Adams is this great, his father must be amazing. It’s my pleasure to meet you sir.” The look on my Dad’s face was priceless.
Later, as teachers gathered at a local bar for drinks, Dad talked with everyone and was the life of the party. He was excited to exchange stories of Montana with a teacher that recently moved here from there, and Dad had fun embarrassing me while telling stories from my childhood. He tried to say no as a new round of Bud Lights came out, but he couldn’t resist; he was having too much fun! His eyes sparkled as he thanked me over and over. “Fathers dream of being asked to do this with their kids.”
Dad and I woke up early in the morning and while I was getting ready he made his daily call to his mom. Then he’d make his first call to his wife Peggy. Dad and I worked in the yard for hours, and at every break, he’d call Peggy. When we finished and he packed up his truck, I thanked him for all his help in the yard. I asked him when our next work party would be, and he gave me a big grin and asked, “When is the next Spanish Club?”
This past summer Dad stayed at our house several times and some days we didn’t get much work done, but we did talk, share, learn and grow our relationship. I am going to miss his smile, miss his generosity, miss his gentle presence, miss his waddle, miss his voice calling Kirsten an Angel, miss his advice and miss knowing he’s a phone call away. I can’t bear to think that my kids will never meet my Dad. But they will know of him. We will make sure of it.
Dad, I love you and I’ll kiss the girl for ya.