Recently our babysitter was on her way to Morocco when she missed a flight and found herself alone in New York. She is a very capable young woman, but at the time she just wanted her mom.
Because I always think of myself when people tell me stories, I thought about when I really, really wanted my dad.
When I graduated high school I spent all my babysitting money on a trip to France. I had a sweet babysitting gig and was rich beyond measure. At the end of two weeks I was ready to come home and spent the day dashing around Paris making last minute purchases. I checked out of my hotel and as I signed over the last of my travellers checks I discovered that my passport had been stolen.
I went back up to my hotel room, tore apart everything I owned, established that it was nowhere to be found and wailed, "daddy!!!!" Dad, you see, was the patron saint of all things organized and could be counted on to make everything right.
He did not materialize.
The hotel took the checks without proper identification and I went on to the airport to explain my predicament to the airline. On the way, I called my aunt (who was going to meet me at the airport in Boston) from a payphone and told her I wasn't coming home yet. No time to explain, as the coins tink, tink, tinked their way to the end of the call.
I then made my way to the US Embassy. I walked up to the nice man in uniform in the guard station and said "my passport's been..... waaaaaah!" He hands me a pint of ice cream and a spoon and asks me to please not cry. I had been so strong, but those father-figures get me every time.
I ended up getting travel papers from the US Consulate and flew home the next day. When I called my family from my aunt's house my dad answered the phone. All he said was, "I am so proud of you."
Likewise, my babysitter discovered a surrogate mother-figure. This complete stranger helped her find a place to stay and basically took care of her until she could get on a flight the next day.
Where would we be without these people?
The unfortunate side of having a really great parent is that sometimes they die. I don't mean to be a downer here. It just seems that sometimes that happens. Some of us are lucky enough to have heard something like "I am so proud of you" or "I love you more than toast" from that parent, and others find a surrogate to say it for them. Because I am quite sure that all parents meant to say it but perhaps they thought we just knew.
And sometimes, after that parent is gone, we still find those people who hand us ice cream when we need it, who clean off our headlights when they are muddy, who explain complicated things to us and still think we're smart even if we don't get it right away.
My dad was a seriously smart genius. He knew how to use a slide rule. He was also particularly good at forgetting to pick me up from student orchestra rehearsals. In fact, he pretty much forgot to pick me up whenever it was up to him to pick me up from anything. And he didn't do vacations very well. He'd rather be at work, where he could concentrate on something, fix something. Sitting around with his family at the beach was not his idea of a good time.
But he checked our tire pressure faithfully, drew us painfully accurate directions when we were going places and did background checks on our apartment rentals to make sure they were architecturally sound and properly equipped with emergency exits.
We never, ever doubted that he loved us more than toast.
Although he's been gone for several years, I still miss my dad. But I am always grateful when I see his essential dadness in others. I am especially grateful for the one who most frequently hands me ice cream when I need it, changes my oil faithfully and explains complicated things without making me feel stupid. Even if I did forget to buy him a card.