My name is supposed to be David. My parents. at least my Dad, having already had three daughters planned on having a boy. I’m sure it was a bit of a disappointment when I was born without a Y chromosome but if it was, no one ever said so. Quite the contrary, at least as far as my mother was concerned, this made things much easier. She knew a lot about raising little girls and since none of my sisters had yet hit 13, “the most challenging year” for a girl and for her parents, according to my mother, she probably figured it was smooth sailing. Ha! As for my two oldest sisters, they were happy that they had a living doll to dress and to cart around. They did too, they took me everywhere. This also meant, coming from a family of readers, that they now had an “Amy”, for their March sisters, and a “baby Grace” for the Ingalls girls. That was fine for Meg, Jo and Beth but I never liked being snotty Amy and Grace? She was so insignificant that she was barely mentioned except to say that she caused everyone a lot of grief when she wandered away and got lost on the prairie. If anything, I would have rather been plucky Jo or tomboy Laura, and this is why my Dad and I got along so well.
My sisters could tell you a different story about their father. By the age of 24, my Dad, within a years time, became the father of “Irish twins” and the guardian of two teen boys, my mother’s brothers, who, when their father died suddenly, were left orphans. Partially because of these circumstances, my sisters were raised by a very different father. When I came along, he was in his 30’s, the boys were away at college and having had 10 years of fatherhood under his belt, he was more patient and ready to play with me. Also, since a son was not likely to happen, he treated me like one, and I loved it.
“This is my number four daughter”, he would introduce me to other adults, hands on my shoulders. I think he was proud of having four girls, and that I sometimes acted like a boy. My first memories are of watching football with him. The Dallas Cowboys, his favorite, back in the glory days of the 70’s when Tom Landry was today’s Bill Belichick and Roger Staubach, today’s Tom Brady. “Touchdown!” he would cry, leaping from his chair, causing me to look up from pushing the little truck he made me, the one with the little wooden wheels and popsicle sticks that made the sides of the bed, perfectly fashioned. He patiently explained the game, the downs, and safety’s, field goals and extra points during commercials for Pabst blue ribbon beer and cigarettes ads, imploring us to “come to where the flavor is” with the ruggedly handsome cowboy. We also watched boxing, which I loved, and sometimes the Indy 500, which I didn’t, because I thought then, and still think, that it’s incredibly boring and the only thing worth watching is when someone crashes and then you feel guilty for getting excited. We played a lot of catch and watched a little baseball and he called me “Kiddo” and “Sport.” He gave me my own pocketknife when I was 5 and we spent time shooting. I liked to hang out with him in his shop in the basement while he worked. He had enormous machines down there, metal and woodlathes, jig-saws and bandsaws. Never one to worry, he allowed me to “dust” the jagged teeth with a clean paintbrush and sweep the metal curlicues on the floor. We didn’t say much, we just were together. Sometimes, I would aloud read to him from whatever book I was reading at the time while he worked. He was subjected to Ramona and Beezus, The Little House on the Prairie series, Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon. He never complained. Sometimes, I would stop in the middle of reading with questions that had bothered me all day, “which is worse, a heart attack or a stroke? Is a tornado worse than a hurricane? Who is Dow Jones?” He always, always knew the answer. When I went to summer camp, he wrote to me twice in one week, much to the chagrin of my oldest sister who said that in 4 years at Wellesley, he never wrote. He attended every farm league baseball game I played in (my town was too small to have a softball team, so the girls played baseball) and agreed with me when I quit Little league because the coach insisted I throw with my right since I batted right, even though I had fielded like a leftie for years. As I got older, he attended every field hockey game and track meet, both winter and spring, each time bringing me a Skor bar because I was superstitious like that then. He sent flowers to the school when I came in first in regionals and again when I placed in states when I was a freshman, with a card that read, “the ‘kick’ is back” . He taught me to drive a stick shift and made me practice on hills when he learned I was going miles out of the way in my 1979 Honda Accord to drop my boyfriend off so that I wouldn’t have to stop at a red light on a hill.
But then it changed. I had a licence, my parents divorced, and my mom and I, my sisters having long since married and moved away, moved to an apartment in town 15 miles from where my father lived. I quit all sports in favor of cigarettes and parties (it turned out that my mother was 75% right about the 13 thing, my worst year was when I was 16), I didn’t have time for my dad, although he had always had time for me. I didnt make the effort that he had. We talked once in a while and I know he missed going to my events, but he never said so. The years passed and now he is a “snow bird”. He and his wife travel south each winter to avoid the ferociousness of the Maine winter. We see each other occasionally and talk on the phone sometimes, as today, when I called to wish him a Happy birthday. “hellooo,” he answered heartily. ” Happy Birthday! How does it feel to be 79?” I asked. “Great! Who is this?” “It’s your number four daughter” I answered. He knew me then and we chatted about future plans for celebrating when he returns to Maine in May. I know just what we will do. We will have pizza and cake. We will talk about guns and sports and memories on the deck as we swat away mosquitos and the years. We will take the jeep to the sandpit and shoot as we have always done, his number four and my number one. Happy birthday Dad.