For My Father, With Love

I’ve seen some incredible, beautiful things. Like the little girl who’s not very cute – her teeth are funny, and her hair doesn’t grow right, and she’s got on thick glasses – but her father holds her hand and walks with her like she’s a tiny angel that no one can touch.
– Adriana Trigiani

Side Note: I wrote this piece for my dad on his birthday (which is in early July), and it means a hell of a lot to me – just like he does. That being said, I wanted to share the love with the rest of the world. Peace and love, people. Spread it.

I’m two years old. Mommy is busy working, but Daddy’s taking care of me. His strong hands guide me across the rocks at Pebble Beach. It’s a cool day, so Daddy’s zipped my white jacket up pretty tight, but it doesn’t matter, the ice cream he bought me is yummy anyway. Ice cream and time with Daddy – today is a great day. I’m all smiles, and I feel loved.

I’m three years old. I’ve always wanted a dog. My dad promised, he promised me we’d get a dog soon. A cute Akita puppy. Just for me. But I guess for now, a bulldog will do just fine. My daddy, the bulldog. He’s letting me ride on his back and the scruff on his face mirror the whiskers of a dog. I’m all laughs, and I feel loved.

I’m four years old. Dad has decided to style my hair for the first day of preschool. A red bow and my poofy bangs, and I’m ready to go. Can’t forget my backpack, Dad reminds me. We are driving in the car – I’m anxious, I don’t want to be away from Mommy or Daddy. I’m not ready for this. I feel the sadness well up behind my eyes. Don’t cry, I tell myself. Don’t you dare. You’re a big girl now – you have an awesome outfit, the best hairstyle, and delicious snacks. But I can’t hold back the sadness – it pours over as my dad’s strong hands hold open the gate to Merry Moppet for me. No, I don’t want to. One more day with you and Mom, I think. I’m all tears, but I feel loved.

I’m five years old. Ms. Burkett’s kindergarten class has twenty different pets – hamsters, geckos, fish – I love them all. My dad is an animal lover, too. I love that we have that in common. He even bought me a whole set of animal cards from National Geographic – there are thousands of species! I love that we go through at least one a day. Last night, I learned all about the Beluga Whale…I wish I could have a Beluga Whale. It’s time for science now – Ms. Burkett shows us a bunch of eggs under a heating lamp. One day, they will hatch, and we will have chicks and ducklings, she says. She also lets us know that we can take one home if our families are okay with it. I am overjoyed. Dad picks me up, and I immediately ask him. He thinks it’s a good idea, Mommy doesn’t. No, it won’t get germs around Nikki, I think. Yes, it is cute, I know. I want to argue with Mom, but Dad reminds me to hold out for our puppy. So no chick, and no duckling. Humph. But at least Dad is on my side. The two animal lovers against the world. Or against Mom, at least. I’m frustrated, but I know I am loved.

I’m ten years old. Today marks the day I am graduating from Belmont Oaks Academy. It also marks the last day Nikki and I will ever be in the same school together. Dad reminds us of this as he drives us to school. Dad, always the multitasking driver. His coffee in one hand, his V8 tomato juice resting in the center console, his other hand trying to peel his banana or eat his granola bar, and the steering rests all in his pinky. Most would call this unsafe driving behavior, but I’ve never doubted my father. He’s driven us to school every day, and he keeps us safe. He’d do anything for us. For me and Nikki and Mom. I trust him, and I know I am loved.

I’m fifteen years old. Dad’s going to teach me how to drive. No radio, hands in the 10 and 2 position. Adjust your mirrors. Is your seat okay? Sam, you’re drifting too close to the right. You’re going to hit the parked cars. No, that’s the gas. Break left. Gas right. I want to scream, I want to yell. Quit telling me what to do! I’m fifteen. I’m an ADULT. My dad sometimes, I swear. I need to cool off. I need to remember he’s only trying to help. I need to remember that if I do everything he says, I will get my license and have ultimate driving freedom. I can get away from my parents anytime I want. We finish our first driving lesson, and I head up to my room and remember how I hate being away from my family. They are my safe haven, my guiding light, the people that look out for me most. They are the people I spend my Saturday nights with, the ones that had my back against that damn Mr. Ottersberg, the ones that always have my back. No matter what. I feel terrible, I shouldn’t have gotten mad at Dad. I’m all apologies, I’m forgiven, and I know I am loved.

I’m seventeen years old. Mom, Dad, Nikki and I have traveled throughout California looking at potential colleges for me. The application process has been completed, and now I am counting down the days until I get my letters. UCLA, UCSD, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UC Davis, Stanford University, and Santa Clara University. God, I want UCLA so badly. Please, please, please. It’s 7 am, and I log on. We regret to inform you… Those are the first words I read. No…not UCLA. My dream school. I immediately begin to cry. It’s like I’m four years old all over again, and all I want are my Mommy and Daddy. Dad hugs me, reminds me it’s not where I get my education, but what I do with it, and that those admissions people at UCLA are crazy. How did I not get accepted? His strong hands pull me into a hug, and I realize now more than ever, no matter how old I get, I’m always going to need my father. Once again, I’m all tears, but they are proud of me, and I know I am loved.

I’m eighteen years old. I’m finally rid of high school. It’s June 11, 2007. This day does not hold senior trips for me or summer pool parties, but I’m prepping for surgery. Mom has French braided my hair and holds my hand. I see Dad pacing. He’s nervous, I can tell. I promise you you’re not as nervous as I am, I want to tell him. His brow is furrowed, he creases his hands. Don’t worry, Dad, I’m going to be fine. Eight hours later and my spine will be brand new. I am partially saying this for him, and partially for me. My own words mixed with his worry somehow comforts me. The anesthesia begins to flow through my veins. I am wheeled away from my parents. I am two years old again, wishing for my dad’s strong hands to guide me, to hold me, to carry me away from all of this. I am terrified, but I know I am loved.

I’m twenty-one years old. It’s my birthday. The entire family will be arriving around 4 p.m. so we can celebrate. Nikki is beyond insistent we play beer pong – I am beyond insistent we play charades. Michael* has other ideas – why the hell would he choose today of all days to pick a fight with me? Because I didn’t answer my phone? What an idiot. We are outside by his car. He yells, I yell. I cry as he drives away. I know it’s over. Happy birthday to me. Dad is fuming. Not at me, but how in the world could someone hurt his daughter like this? On her birthday! I feel overwhelmingly protected, and only wish Dad would have gone out there and punched Mike square in the face. My dad, my shield, my guardian, my defender, my first knight in shining armor. He was there to make me feel better. He called Mike names, and I relished in my father’s hatred of my now ex-boyfriend. He was on my side, my dad – and he always would be. He can’t stand to see his girls hurting. It’s my birthday, and I feel loved.

I’m twenty-two years old. It’s June 11, 2011. I’m graduating from Santa Clara University. I’m at the senior breakfast with my friends, waiting for Dad to arrive with my camera. He breezes through the doors, and even though I know he and my family need to find seats on the lawn, he remains calm and collected. He meets my friends, and even though I’m graduating, I’m swelling with pride to call him my father. He’s friendly, likeable (but he’ll always be loveable in my eyes), and can wear a suit better than any other Indian man out there. My roommate Chelsea snaps a picture of Dad and me. He kisses me on the cheek, congratulates me and my friends, and just like that, he’s off to find seats. My friends comment on how adorable my father is as I take a look at the picture of the two of us. I immediately break out into a smile and begin to tear up – my father has the biggest grin on his face – I’ve never seen him smile that wide. Ever. And he’s known for his grin. He’s truly proud of his daughter, and that means everything to me. I’ve worked hard. Not just for me. But for my family, too. I’m excited, anxious, nervous, and happy all at once – but most of all, I’m loved.

I’m twenty-four years old. It’s Dad’s 52nd birthday today. He doesn’t look his age at all. To me, I still think of him at forty, when Mom, Nikki and I threw that surprise birthday party for him. I’m realizing more and more what a wonderful man my father is. We have gone through a lot as a family – many highs and many lows, but we have remained strong together. Dad continues to take care of me – just like he did when I was two. But his strong hands are no longer needed to help me walk, instead, I have learned I will never outgrow his hugs or having him put his arm around me. Those hands, the ones that are creased and show his years of hard work and struggle – those are the ones that will guide me down the aisle someday, the ones that will high five me when we tease Mom, and the ones that will push me to be brave, push me to work hard, and push me to always strive to be the best version of myself. On his birthday, there are not enough words to express how thankful I am to call him Dad, to tell him how appreciative I am of raising me the way he did, and to let him know how much he is loved. Not just by me, but by everyone. So Dad, let me say one thing to you – I’m all laughs and all smiles. It’s your birthday, and I hope you know you are loved.

*Name changed to protect the not so innocent

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