There’s all sorts of stereotypes and caricatures out there of the little Jewish girl and her Daddy. Stories and tales and jokes made about the olive-skinned girl with the dark curly hair, the slightly prominent nose and those xdark brown eyes putting her hands on her hips, stomping her feet and whining in a tone that would make Fran Drescher shudder, “But Daddy!” And of course the very next part of that story or joke or comment is that the Daddy in question folds and gives the daughter everything that she is asking for. While I can’t completely deny that I did everything in my power growing up to get things from my Daddy, I can easily say that I never had to resort to such lengths.
My Daddy comes from a fairly small family, made smaller even by the family politics that he wanted to avoid. He married my mother and then promptly did everything he could to take care of her and his new family. He worked long hours when we were growing up and made the hard choice to move us from Philadelphia to Delaware, away from his own mother, to help us get a better life. We went to good schools, we never wanted for anything. We were never hungry or naked (except for bathtime), and we went on vacation of one form or another every year. A fond memory was when we went to Disneyworld for the first time (yes, the first time), My Daddy had set up a scavenger hunt for my brother and I to follow around the house, ending at the VCR where we pressed play and the information movie on Disneyworld started. There were other vacations too. Williamsburg, Boston, Cleveland, Scotland and London.
My Daddy made sure that while growing up I was being educated well. I would bring my homework home and after finishing it, my Daddy would go over it with me. Vocabulary words were always a favorite, as the usual task was to write the word out and then use it in a sentence. But that wasn’t advanced enough for my Daddy. Oh no. The challenge was to use all of the words that week in as few sentences as possible. I remember it driving my teachers crazy, but it was the challenge that my Daddy set forth for me. Daddy had no problems helping me with reports, sometimes going so far as to teach me how to footnote and write in styles that i shouldn’t learn for years to come, just to make it a bit more challenging. Mathematics were always a struggle for me, but I always knew that I could trust my Daddy to help me through them. Whether it was a new approach to fractions (using a pizza pie), or just help learning my multiplication tables (A deck of cards), Daddy was always there to help me with schoolwork. And when school became too intense in other ways, Daddy was always there. The Principals of my schools knew my father and they knew better than to argue with him. Daddy only became involved when it was necessary, like making sure the Jewish Holidays didn’t count against my absence records. Daddy and Mommy both volunteered every year when I was in the primary grades, coming in around Hannukah and Purim to give a presentation to the other kids in my school about what the holidays were and what they meant. Daddy even took off from work one day when I was in the third grade to be our chaperone for the school trip to Washington DC.
My Daddy wasn’t just amazing when it came to school, but he was also supportive in everything else. One of the rules that we learned quickly while growing up was that we could ask our parents anything, and we would get the answer. There wasn’t a time growing up that I remember being treated ‘like a kid’. Oh sure, there were moments where I was pretty childish, but then every kid goes through that. But there was no questions that could be asked that would ever result in “you’re too young” as the answer. We had rousing dinner table discussions about everything, from school, to moving, to the assassination of JFK, there was no topic that was considered too adult. I don’t ever remember having “the talk” with my Daddy, or my mother for that matter, but sex was not something to be hidden or not talked about. We just never needed to have the talk, it was understood. I remember the day that I woke up, I think I was just about to turn thirteen, it was two weeks before my birthday and I woke up and went to the bathroom like normal. Only this time wasn’t normal. The first person that I called was my Daddy. I don’t know why, but it never even crossed my mind that it was unusual to do that. I wanted to let my daddy know that not only would I be a grown up woman in our religion’s eyes, but in the eyes of nature as well. Telling my Daddy never seemed weird, until years later some people commented that it was just odd. Whatever, I say to that. A girl should be able to tell her Daddy anything and have him understand.
My Daddy has been very understanding with me, especially as I got older. I finished high school and went away to University. I picked the campus that I liked, the school that I wanted, and my Daddy simply told me that he wanted me to be happy. And when I failed my first semester so hard that it left scars, I called my Daddy and he understood. He never once yelled, but simply said that I had to do better and he told me that it took him a few years to figure out what he wanted to do. As the years went on and school continued and one boyfriend after the other rose and fell my Daddy would voice his displeasure, but he never did anything but that. And his displeasure and disapproval was often enough. My Daddy understood that I needed to get out of the wing, out of the house, out of Delaware to fully grow. And so he let me go. It hurt him a bit inside, but he let me go, because it was best for me. My Daddy has always done what he determines is best for me.
My Daddy is my hero. He let me discover life on my own and when it became too much, my Daddy rescued me. He never once told me that I had to live with the mess that I had made. My Daddy never once pushed me away into the darkness and left me to flounder. When I thought my life could not get darker, when I was drowning in the inch of water left at the bottom of the barrel, my Daddy fished me out, dragged me to the surface, and saved my life. He gave me a firm place to put my feet, a safe place to rest my head, and the rock to lean on while I tried to get myself back together. Never once in my life have I ever said “Daddy I need help” and My Daddy hasn’t been there for me.
There’s a thing, with writers, that we try to find all the words to cover everything, to make it clear and true and ring deep into the hearts of our readers. That’s a difficult thing to accomplish with emotions. I could write the words, “I love My Daddy” and they would convey the emotional impact well enough, but not deep enough. There are some things in this world that have to be felt, that have to be truly experienced to understand, not just read. I am the woman that I am today because of My Daddy. He raised me as best he could, did everything in his power to guarantee that I had every possible opportunity that I could have ever wanted. He sent me to England with university, he took me to see stage shows, the circus, Disney on Ice, and a million other things all because it was good for me to have the culture (and because I asked). My Daddy has suffered through Thundercats and through WWF. All because it made me happy. He has put me through University, helped me buy a car, rescued me from my own stupidity, and he has done it all while providing food, shelter, and security for the entire family. My Daddy has finished his Doctorate and he takes care of his patients, working ten hour days, if not sometimes longer. My Daddy has run a side business helping to educate urology nurses across the United States and sometimes Canada. My Daddy has done all of these things, and still been there for when I needed to talk.
I have memories that will never fade, of laying on the couch with my Daddy watching football, or the Three Stooges, and eating pistachios from their shells. Of my Daddy hugging me after my Bat Mitzvah, and of my Daddy hugging me one April in Maine. Memories of my Daddy at my high school graduation, and of My Daddy driving us through the Scottish Highlands at night. Memories of dinners at restaurants where it wasn’t needed to tell me to behave, I already knew how. Of swimming pools in various hotels across the country, of talks about the craziest things from the time I was old enough to have memories. I have never wanted for anything in my life that I did not get, eventually.
I’m far away from my Daddy now, living on the other side of the globe, a completely different hemisphere and time. I am happy here, I am finally coming into my own being, coming into the point of being who I am. I can’t give my Daddy the hugs that I would like to. I can’t make him dinner and try to get him to work on his blood sugar. I see my Daddy via skype on the weekends, and sometimes that’s enough. Other times, I miss my Daddy and would like to give him a hug. But I have to live my own life, make my own way.
Luckily for me, I had My Daddy to show me the way.
I love you, Daddy. Happy Father’s Day.