I love tattooed women, maybe because they are uncontrollable, they are themselves to the point of drawing symbols of their power on their skin. Talk about owning your own body, being in your body, claiming yourself. I love it. When the world is in an uproar over whether women should have a choice or not when it comes to their own bodies, being tattooed is one of the most visible choices of all.
One of my most vivid memories of my dad is tied up with one of my most vivid emotions: fear. Thankfully, not in the way some experience fear with their fathers. No, this memory is different. When I was young, between 2 and 3, I had an issue with one of my kidneys, and there were lots of doctors’ appointments (and, eventually, surgery, on Fathers’ Day that year) to fix it. The memory goes something like this:
I am laying (lying? who knows?) face up on an exam table, in a darkened room, after what felt like a long appointment. Above me, coming from the ceiling, is this seemingly huge machine. The technician is trying to convince me to be still (no small feat for a child my age), and the machine begins to make noises as it lowers towards me on the table. Terror flashes in my little mind, and I begin to cry, worrying that it will crush me there, like a ladybug, I remember thinking. Suddenly, a hand is in mine; it is my daddy’s. I remember him sympathizing with my fear, not belittling it. He asked me if I trusted him. He said that he would never let anything happen to me, if he could help it, that the machine needed to take pictures of my insides (it was an xray machine, if you haven’t caught that yet) so they could know what was wrong and how to fix it. He stooped to my level, never letting go of my hand, and looked me in the eye. He reassured me, tears in his eyes, then promised me a trip to Baskin Robbins afterwards.
I forgot about that memory for a long time, tucked away in some corner of my brain, until my freshman year of college. It was hours before my dad’s birthday party, and I had gotten him the best gift I could think of. He was a member of a fraternity in one of the many colleges he attended, and was proud of that. I found a fraternity shirt online and bought it, planning to give it to him. Sitting in my dorm room, I realized that the gift should be accompanied by a card. On significant occasions/birthdays, my dad would take the time to write a heartfelt message to me in a card that went with the gift he was giving. I did not appreciate this as much at various points in my life as I should have. But this being my first gift to him since I had stopped living at home most of the time, I wanted to acknowledge that tradition. But what to write? I closed my eyes and let my mind wander. What was my favorite memory of him? Bits and pieces came to mind, nothing really gripping, then something about the aforementioned one. Baskin Robbins. As I thought more about it, the memory came flooding back to me, along with the emotions entangled with it. I wrote to my daddy about this memory in the card, and later, when I gave him the package, he teared up in the middle of the Texas Roadhouse. After his death, my mom mentioned it to me as something that really touched him. It feels like the one time I can remember getting it almost right, loving and accepting him for who he was and who he tried to be for us.
I wish I could say our relationship was forever changed, and we operated on a new level of consciousness of each other, but that’s not true. We were two broken people, trying to do life, and carried our own baggage. I let that get in the way more than I should have. But that memory lives on in me, the epitome of what my father tried to tell me, with his words and actions: that he really did love me, my sister, and my mom, and wanted only the best for us. I’d like to think he knew I knew that.
A few months later that year, in 1992, I did have surgery on my kidneys, and the pain medication they gave me made me incredibly mean and also incredibly awake; not the combination you want in a post-op toddler. My daddy crawled into my hospital bed with me at 3 in the morning and did the only thing that kept me semi-calm: we watched The Jungle Book together. The medicine finally wore off, my body healed, but to this day, I have a 3 inch scar running across the bottom of my belly from the incision. I used to think it made me ugly, that it was a mistake. Now, I kind of like the uniqueness. It reminds me of those two memories of my dad. So on this, my third fatherless Father’s Day (as a dear friend aptly called it), I will choose to remember him as he was: human, but always willing to reach out and love me.