Scratch tickets and a father's love
Was it golf-club-shaped bar tools or a retro Brooklyn Dodgers cap?
It wasn't a cordless drill; stuff like that he liked to pick out himself. It could have been a baseball beer mug, or maybe it was that blue sweater vest. Was it blue or gray? It was probably just a card. Gosh, I hope I bought him something. Knowing me at age 22, I'll bet I just brought my old man a card. I don't remember; it's been too long now. If I had known it was going to be his last Father's Day I would have got him something cool.
He did the same thing every Father's Day. We went to church, then he'd take us out to breakfast and on the ride home he'd ask my mom if he could "take the day off" and go play golf.
Later on he'd come home, we'd eat dinner together and then he'd watch baseball with a beer in his hand until he fell asleep on the couch.
Every Father's Day it was always the same. Until four months after that Father's Day, when he went out to play golf and never came back.
I bet he was wearing that sweater vest. He always wore that. Damn it, was it blue or gray?
It was probably green, but I think of it as blue or gray because that's how the memories look through my mind now. I've been through five Father's Days without my dad, and this weekend is still a little bleak. I feel displaced.
I miss him and all that he was to me. I miss being his daughter. I miss the sound of his voice. His physical presence is missed. And I would be remiss if I didn't admit that some nights, I still cry. Sometimes for no reason.
Strangely enough, fathers who pass away hardly go missing from their kids' lives. Memories might fade, but some happenings remain hardwired long after they meet the grave.
I can't remember half of the crap I gave my dad, but I'll never forget the gems he gave me. He used to come home from work with scratch-off lottery tickets. I remember running to the door when I heard the garage door open every weeknight. "Dad's home." In one motion he'd set his briefcase on the ground, tug one leg of his suit pants up and take a knee right in front of me. I can still smell the gust of Old Spice and shoe polish that hit me as he knelt to my level. With one hand he'd hand me the scratch ticket. With the other he'd pull a quarter from behind my earlobe.
As a kid, I had no idea what my dad did when he left every morning in a suit and tie, but I knew some nights he came back with a scratch-off ticket for his little girl.
That summer night, my job was to match three numbers and win the amount in the box. I scratched my lights out, then celebrated wildly. I had won exactly $333.33. It was 1989. I was 10 years old. I thought I had just scratched my way to retirement by the sixth grade. My dad said he'd cash in the ticket and buy a special gift with the winnings. He bought baseball tickets for the whole family. One summer Saturday we loaded up the station wagon and drove into New York for my first trip to Shea Stadium. Thanks, Dad. They tore it down this year. I would have missed it if you never brought that ticket home.
I remember another ballpark with Dad. My first game ever was our trip to Yankee Stadium, when someone in his office gave him two tickets and he chose me. We were partners in crime, me and my dad. He buckled me in the front seat, bought me a fountain soda from the gas station on the way out of town. We got there early. He held my hand on the subway and held me up over the fence during batting practice. During the game, he whisked me away to the lower concourse for a hot dog when the guys beside us started using words I wasn't supposed to learn yet.
Always protecting his little girl, that was my dad. And buying me the things Mom wouldn't.
I still have the Kangol golf hat you picked out for me for my 13th birthday. In the brim, you tucked my own punch card for buckets of golf balls at the driving range. I thought the hat was pretty hip. My dad told me he didn't know it was cool, but it was classic and that never goes out of style.
I never thought my dad was cool, but I always thought he was classic. He was my dad; my very own old man. Even though I never thought he was cool -- he wore Sperry Top-Siders with white athletic socks pulled up to his calves -- I always respected him and was grateful for every second of our time spent together. He taught me the lessons that get skipped over in the miseducation of little girls.
Dads and daughters are a funny combination. A real match in the gas tank of irreconcilable similarities. We have nothing in common, but we're exactly the same.
It's easy to romanticize a relationship with your father, especially after he's gone. Make no mistake, it wasn't all sunshine and scratch tickets. He wasn't perfect (and neither was I). There were definitely days of strained communication, stubborn standoffs and seemingly incompatible father-daughter world views, but that all fades from memory now. Instead, the most vivid memories are of the way his big hand on my shoulder made me feel safe in a stadium, and the golf tactics he would teach me as we walked up fairways with bags slung on our backs.
Once you lose your dad, the squabbles are just insignificant details in the grand scheme of time together. Much like the forgettable crap I used to buy him for Father's Day.
Mary Buckheit is a Page 2 columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.