I am the oldest of five kids. That makes me the authority on our family. There are ten years between me and my youngest sibling. By the time she came onto the planet I was an old hand at changing diapers, making bottles and inventing games to entertain the restless natives. I was also fully aware that the presence of one more kid meant less of everything for me, including my own childhood, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized it had also meant something more.
Our family was a satellite of sorts, slightly tethered to relatives, but strangely with no ancestry or heritage. We were all we had. “We are it,” my dad was fond of saying. Like our own little unit of nomads trying to assimilate into the general population. Of course I attended school and interacted with people, but always as an outsider. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this was my first lesson in non-attachment.
Nothing is permanent.
I learned valuable lessons from watching my dad. He could fix anything, still can, and he was fearless. Although he wasn’t prepared for fatherhood, he was just a kid himself really; he embodied the best qualities of a father, still does. As a young man, my dad was hard-headed and soft-hearted. He worked a lot, which meant he was gone a lot. When he was home, I studied him. I knew from a simple gesture if he wanted an ash tray or a glass of iced tea. He was king of the castle, so to speak, not to be disturbed while sleeping and not to be talked back to, ever. I respected him, not out of fear, but for his ability to do the right thing even when the cards were stacked against him. I know he passed that ability on to all of us kids.
Like so many dads, he missed out on the important everyday activities at home because of his job. His absence meant I had to step up and be more than the big sister. I took that role seriously. I never wanted to let him down, but of course I did sometimes. I was not a perfect kid. I was a smart-mouth, know-it-all in charge of keeping the peace, by force if necessary. (I’ve outgrown most of that.) When I decided to
escape from my own little Alcatraz leave home, my dad was not happy about it, but he didn’t try to stop me. He was just a phone call away if I ever needed him. Which of course I quickly found out I did.
I am the person I am today largely because of him. Happy Birthday Daddy, I love you. You’re the best!