My First Guy

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.” – Jim Valvano. He was my first love and impressed me with his many talents and strong resolve.

Dad took us on our first camping trip after my little brother was born. He took my older brother and me up into the mountains where we slept under the stars. I was three yet the memory of night time stars is etched with clarity in my mind.We laid there and Dad explained what stars were and how to find the north star.Dad patiently taught us about the stars for years until we could finally explain the planets, stars and other celestial bodies on our own which led to sleeping in the yard with alarm clocks nearby so we could check out Saturn or a comet at3 AM.

Saturdays were invented for Dad. I helped Dad grease ball bearings, cut gaskets, change oil, replace brake pads, build furniture, sand projects, varnish surfaces and other handy things. This isn’t to say that ALL my time was spent with Dad. I also fed my younger brother mud cookies, trapped bees in jars, looked for geodes in the canyon, tore around on bikes, flew kites, built forts and a thousand other last arts. But I loved spending time with Dad on whatever project he was doing.

He took us to his classroom where he was teaching metal shop. He taught us how to use the massive tools to cut sheets of metal into little boxes for gifts to Mom or a fantasy control panel for the X-15 into which we soldered a myriad of dials, switches and buttons which actually lit up and made noises.

One Saturday when rain was drenching the streets Dad took all three of us kids on a walk through the park. I donned my bright red galoshes and shiny raincoat. We trekked through puddles and mud like Dr. Livingston in darkest Africa. We thrashed through tall grass in the recesses of Balboa Park and stomped in the biggest puddles we could find. The day is a monument of Fatherhood in my memory. It wasn’t until years later I learned that Mom had a migraine and really needed some time alone. Dad was not only a hero to me, but also to Mom.

It wasn’t until Dad and I sat with Mom as she lay dying, that the bond of love between us became boldly apparent. We held her hands, praying and nervous as she took her last breath, and it was in that moment that I felt born anew with this single parent at the helm of my ship. I realized how much my father meant to me, my last stronghold of the values and reasons I am who I am. I held onto him with an iron grip.

In contrast with my colorful mother, Dad was the strong, silent type. He made the bed with military corners, and had everything “just so.” But he ran deep. I was blessed when I had the privilege of spending ample time with him during his last ten days. I had the freedom of time to practically live in his hospital room in San Diego as he fought through the last days. It was intense, quiet, boisterous,rowdy, sad, and final. At the end, I was satisfied and content that I had left NOTHING unsaid, no love withheld, no action undone. I was blessed to have had the time to massage oil into nearly every inch of his body while telling him how much I loved him and appreciated the countless memories of love and wisdom he had shared with us.

No one in the world loves us like the one who taught us love and life. Not every Dad has the same gifts and abilities, but every father does the best they can at the time. Take a moment to love your father if you still have him. If you don’t, spend some time remembering him, or doing something loving in his honor.For those who never had the blessing of a wonderful father, take time to BE that person for someone else; even if you’re not a guy. You can give that memory to someone else.

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