The dad for me

My dad used to sing a little song about me:

The M-A-M-I-E, yes, that’s the girl for me
Yes, that’s the girl with the golden curl
The M-A-M-I-E.

(For those who went to Sunday School, the tune’s the same as The B-I-B-L-E.)

I loved my dad. He read books to me and taught me how to read. He talked to me like I was a person— no baby talk.  He also spanked the bottom of my foot when I was six months old. I had had what he deemed a “temper tantrum.” So he had slightly high standards.

When I was six, my mom took my sister and brand new baby brother and me to our grandparents’ house down south. My dad had to work, so he’d make the long drive alone the following week. I wrote him a letter, saying I missed him and that it would be funner when he got there. He arrived a week later, wearing a pinkish shirt with a tag on the chest pocket that said BREAD, one of my favorites. I sat close enough to him to see the individual red threads running through the fabric. I laughed when he tickled the side of my face with the stubble on his chin. (He used to run his driver’s license over his beard hairs sometimes, because the sound gave me the willies.) We were having a fun reunion, and he brought the letter I had sent out of his pocket.

“I want to show you something,” he said. He pointed out funner. “You should say ‘more fun.’ Funner is not a word.”

It stung. I didn’t cry or anything, but I saw red. Sure I was glad to know the right word. Very glad I had made an embarrassing error in front of only my father and not the entire world. But that whole high standards thing. I really internalized that. It was okay for other people to screw up, but not for me. Everyone else deserved grace, but I had to be perfect.

Fast forward to today, and I have a better perspective. I can see he wasn’t expecting perfection; he was enjoying our connection. My dad and I are a lot alike. Like the shirt that appeared pink but wasn’t, we are more complicated, more nuanced than we appear from afar. And most people never get close enough to see.

Don't get too close, though. My dad also taught me how to shoot.
Don’t get too close, though. My dad also taught me how to shoot.

Looking back now, I see a smart, quirky man proud to have a daughter who was such a chip off the old block. A teacher who looked not for mistakes, but for opportunities to instruct. A guy who not only “got” but extended grace to a little girl not many people understood. A man who didn’t talk much about love but knew how to show it with cuddles and a driver’s license. A daddy who wrote a song just for me and carried my letter in his shirt pocket.

He carried my letter in his pocket.

Yes, that’s the dad for me.

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