Just for the Halibut


Father’s Day has come and gone. I saw many black and white photos of men on Facebook, people my age honoring their deceased dads. I didn’t have a good photo of Dad to post, just silly ones or childhood ones. It never occurred to me 34 years ago that I would someday want a good photo of my father.

He died right before Christmas in 1987, and his estranged dad died ten days later. Two funerals in two weeks. Needless to say, it was a gloomy holiday, although we were all together as a family.

My dad had had a bad backache and had seen the doctor that summer. The diagnois was cancer. He was so young. It all happened so fast.

I sat with him in the hospital just days before he died. I said the wrong thing. He got angry.

The night before he passed away, everyone went to see him except me. I was exhausted, keeping my 14-month old safe in a house full of childess relatives. Hot coffee in a cup left on an end table. Sharp scissors where she could reach them.  The door to the basement stairs left open. My daughter was everywhere doing everything while I chased her (now she’s a PhD in a lab coat).

The next morning, I got the call from Mom. Come to the hospital. Bring your brother (he had flown in the day before).

When we got there, everyone was in the chapel. Mom could barely say the words. In fact, I don’t think she did. I was 32 years old and devastated.

This year on Father’s Day, I danced to live music, a band playing the Beatles.  There is no sting anymore, being a divorced woman with a deceased dad and no male in my family to honor. My friends who recently lost their fathers went to visit their graves. Dad’s grave is in Iowa. I’m on the West Coast.

So today, three days late, I remember my dad and how he made us laugh.

In church he’d change the words and sing, “Holy holy, holy. My socks are holey.”

At the supper table, where swearing was never allowed, he said he did things, just for the halibut.

He loved puns and was quite the punster (his lab-coat granddaughter has inherited this).

He brought home a Spanish dictionary he’d printed that day (a pamphlet, really) and spoke some Spanish at the dinner table. That spark of another language carried through my whole life.

He complimented me the one time I was brave enough to wear a bikini on a family vacation. Ew, Dad! Don’t!

He only spanked me once. I can’t remember why. When I was a teen taking too long in front of the mirror of our only bathroom, he broke down the door to get in to use the facilities. I should’ve listened to him the first three times he’d knocked.

He called me school marm when I became a teacher. I hated it, but he kept it up, year after year.

He helped me buy my first car, a red second-hand Chevy Monza with a clutch. He taught me how to drive it that fall.  I owned if for a few months while I student-taught 5th grade in Des Moines.  Then I left for Venezuela and loaned it to my mom until I got back in April. I student-taught high school Spanish for six weeks in Des Moines and then left for Spain for the summer. My parents drove it.

Dad didn’t reveal the secrets of life or of the universe to me. He gave me no dating advice. He watched sports and drank beer on the weekends, pretty much by himself.

Oh, the things he could’ve taught me, if I’d only known how short of a time I had to ask.

P.S. .Today is my dad’s heavenly birthday. He would’ve been 91.

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