A few years ago when I got pregnant we decided we needed a second car. Nothing fancy–just a beater that could be driven the few miles to Tom’s job, miles that unfortunately were over federal highway and were un-bikeable. I didn’t want him to rely on a carpool in case I went into labor. So while I drove our shiny, adorable, and newish 2007 Honda Fit, Tom went to work in a 1994 Accord with a different color bumper and that shimmied at stoplights. That continued after I had Maggie and stopped working–because the Fit was safer and more reliable, that was my and Maggie’s car while Tom took the shimmying Accord. When my dad found out about the arrangement I could almost hear him nodding over the phone. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s what good daddies do. They drive the old car so Mom and the kids can ride in style.”
My dad didn’t drive the old car. He drove a work-issued van or truck while we got the car with air conditioning and later a rather plush van with captain’s chairs and a separate radio for the back (maybe not much compared to today’s split-screen DVDs, but I assure you it was a huge deal for 1998). It was noisy and smelled like well-used tools; a smell I still think of as being fatherly. I can only imagine how well it handled in the snow. Over this past Christmas there was a blizzard in Maine and we all looked outside at the wild snowfall. “I used to hate it when your dad got called out in this weather. You guys didn’t know. You didn’t know how bad the conditions got.” No, I didn’t know. I knew academically; but I didn’t really know until I was older what that does to your body or what it takes to get up and go out on those calls so your kids can have computers and ski trips and bikes and karate lessons and ride to all of them in the comfortable car. It was what good daddies do.
Lest you think it was all self-sacrifice and no fun, I can tell you it wasn’t. I thought we had a pretty damn good time. There was a lot of fun in those cars: camping trips and visits to Florida, rides to the airport to go to places like Aruba or Washington, DC. One trip in particular stands out: the first time I learned to ski. I cut school and my dad cut work–and we are not a family who plays hooky, you understand–and the two of us went up to Gunstock. He tried to teach me the turns and how to stop and finally just let me fly down the mountain. It was amazing. I’ve loved skiing ever since; that freedom and rush on the mountain is a gift, and I love my dad for making the time to give it to me. It”s what good daddies do.
The last time we saw my dad was the week I found out I was pregnant with Ninja Baby The Second. The next day I cracked a joke about Tom and my dad said, half-laughing, “Go easy on him. He’s a lot older than he was yesterday.” It’s a big responsibility, being someone’s daddy; as my dad well knows it’s an even bigger job being responsible for two little someones. But I think Tom is doing just fine. You see, I had a good daddy, a very good daddy, so I knew what to look for when it came time to start a family. And right now Tom is upstairs with Maggie playing with her 50-piece puzzle map of the United States. “Arizona! Idaho! Can you find Texas?” “Oh! Texas!” Learning and playing together, figuring out where all the fifty states are, just like my dad used to do with us and our map puzzles, so that when Maggie is ready to take on the world she’ll know where she’s going.
It’s what good daddies do. I love you, Dad.