I've been thinking of my father lately; one night I was remembering how he used to meet me on the corner when I walked home from my best friend’s house after dark. If I could define the word “safety” it would be that moment when I would spy my father under the street lamp waiting. I would call from Beth’s house just as I was leaving, at nine, ten or maybe 11 o’clock, depending upon my age, and say, “Leaving.” Then I would scoot out her front door and confront the dark, empty street, either walking or on my bike, and by the time I got to the corner, there Dad would be, often smoking his pipe. Never, ever, did he let me down.
Nothing sinister or dangerous ever happened, and probably never would have, because Schenectady, NY, in those days was pretty safe, and my street and Beth’s were quiet. But Dad was no fool and being linked into the court system as the director of probation he knew that crimes did occur even in safe neighborhoods where we didn’t even lock our doors (at least, not during the day).
No matter what he was doing he dropped it to escort me safely home, and he never told me he couldn’t meet me, or denied me the fun of going to Beth’s house to hang out with my friend, or was too drunk to get to the corner (the man did not drink, except maybe a tiny glass of port or a cold beer on a hot day though I don’t even remember that), or too tired, or too anything, and he never sighed or sounded exasperated or annoyed, and he was always, always there to answer the phone. The message was that I was a VIP. And there is no better, no more important message for a little girl (or a teenaged girl, or maybe a girl of any age) to receive from her father.
This is not to say we didn’t have our issues, particularly during my teen years when I started wearing mini-skirts and white lipstick. My dad didn’t seem to know what to do with my budding sexuality, so he withdrew for a few years, looking a bit disgusted and disgruntled when I’d dress for a date. In due time he relaxed a bit; not only did I acquire a steady boyfriend, but the late sixties and early seventies were a time of baggy painter pants and construction boots. He couldn’t very well disapprove of that, though I’m sure he wasn’t thrilled with the braless part. Ironically, it was my proper and gentlemanly dad who accompanied me to buy my very first bra, standing uncomfortably in the ladies’ loungewear department of our local department store when I was in fourth grade, because my mother was bedridden with a slipped disc just when all the girls in my class were getting their first bras (clearly, few of us actually needed them). He stood there like a trooper, while I marched up to the counter and bought what I desired; a little piece of stretchy cotton called a training bra. My parents never discussed sex with me, though my mother did hand me a pamphlet about menstruation when I was 12.
Times were different. I never heard my parents utter a single swear word (my children learned a host of expletives from me early on in life!). I did once hear my father bellow “Son of a B!” as he raced through our house and out the back door in his pajamas (I think there may have been a stray dog or a raccoon in our backyard). Beth and I had a good laugh over that for years. His code words for caution were simply, “Hey-hey!” Basically that either meant “Watch out!” or “Stop it right now!” The odd little word-combo had power: I never even considered ignoring it.
It’s decades now since my father passed, and I still miss him. Happy Father’s Day to all fathers; I hope you know how truly important you are.