He was 50 years old when I was born, and a “Mr. Mom” long before anyone had a name for it. I didn’t know why he was home instead of Mom, but I was young and the only one of my friends who had their dad around. I considered myself very lucky.
Dad did so many things for me during my grade-school years. He convinced the school bus driver to pick me up my house instead of the usual bus stop that was six blocks away. He always had my lunch ready for me when I came home – usually a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was shaped for the season. My favorite was at Christmas. The sandwiches would be sprinkled with green sugar and cut in the shape of a tree.
As I got a little older and tried to gain my independence, I wanted to move away from those “childish” signs of his love. But he wasn’t going to give up. In high school and no longer able to go home for lunch, I began taking my own. Dad would get up a little early and make it for me. I never knew what to expect. The outside of the sack might be covered with his rendering of a mountain scene (it became his trademark) or a heart inscribed with “Dad-n-Angie K.K.” in its center. Inside there would be a napkin with that same heart or an “I love you.” Many times he would write a joke or a riddle, such as “Why don’t they ever call it a momsicle instead of a popsicle?” He always had some silly saying to make me smile and let me know that he loved me.
I used to hide my lunch so no one would see the bag or read the napkin, but that didn’t last long. One of my friends saw the napkin one day, grabbed it, and passed it around the lunch room. My face burned with embarrassment. To my astonishment, the next day all my friends were waiting to see the napkin. From the way they acted, I think they all wished they had someone who showed them that kind of love. I was so proud to have him as my father. Throughout the rest of my high school years, I received those napkins, and still have a majority of them.
And still it didn’t end. When I left home for college (the last one to leave), I thought the messages would stop. But my friends and I were glad that his gestures continued.
I missed seeing my dad every day after school and so I called him a lot. My phone bills got to be pretty high. It didn’t matter what we said; I just wanted to hear his voice. We started a ritual during that first year that stayed with us. After I said goodbye he always said, “Angie?”
“Yes, Dad?” I’d reply.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too, Dad.”
I began getting letters almost every Friday. The front-desk staff always knew who the letter were from – the return address said “The Hunk.” Many times the envelopes were addressed in crayon, and along with the enclosed letters were usually drawings of our cat and dog, stick figures of him and Mom, and if I had been home the weekend before, of me racing around town with friends and using the house as a pit stop. He also had his mountain scene and the heart-encased inscription, Dad-n-Angie K.K.
The mail was delivered every day right before lunch, so I’d have his letters with me when I went to the cafeteria. I realized it was useless to hide them because my roommate was a high school friend who knew about his napkins. Soon it became a Friday afternoon ritual. I would read the letters, and the drawing and envelope would be passed around.
It was during this time that Dad became stricken with cancer. When the letters didn’t come on Friday, I knew that he had been sick and wasn’t able to write. He used to get up at 4:00a.m. so he could sit in the quiet house and do his letters. If he missed his Friday delivery, the letters would usually come a day or two later. But they always came. My friends used to call him “Coolest Dad in the Universe.” And one day they sent him a card bestowing that title, signed by all of them. I believe he taught all of us about a father’s love. I wouldn’t be surprised if my friends started sending napkins to their children. He left an impression that would stay with them and inspire them to give their own children their expression of their love.
Throughout my four years of college, the letters and phone calls came at regular intervals. But then the time came when I decided to come home and be with him because he was growing sicker, and I knew that our time together was limited. Those were the hardest days to go through. To watch this man, who always acted so young, age past his years. In the end he didn’t recognize who I was and would call me the name of a relative he hadn’t seen in many years. Even though I knew it was due to his illness, it still hurt that he couldn’t remember my name.
I was alone with him in his hospital room a couple of days before he died. We held hands and watched TV. As I was getting ready to leave, he said, “Angie?”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too, Dad.”