Dad: Thanks for the Father's Day wishes, photo, and trip down memory lane. I wasn't a dad until you came along. Love you.
Me: Love you, too. Thanks for being the best dad in the world.
Dad: Even if you and I are the only ones who believe that, it's enough. Thanks.
Now, this was pretty sappy for us. We're generally not of the "touchy-feely" persuasion, and his text was in response to a Facebook post I'd made earlier in the day (okay, in the middle of the night) that pretty much sums up our relationship:
According to my parents, I was absolute dead weight as a baby; as soon as their arms went around me, I did an Oscar-worthy impression of a sack of potatoes. I also may or may not have been a clingy child, and while I could entertain myself in my room for hours with Legos, horse toys, and stuffed animals, taking me outside of my comfort zone resulted in another Oscar-worthy impression of a hermit crab.
Taking the training wheels off my first bike was an ordeal. I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but I do remember fashioning a full-body protective suit out of pillows, a down jacket, knee and elbow pads, and a handkerchief to protect my face from road rash. I wrapped a large winter scarf around my waist for my dad to hold as he walked next to the bike as a stabilizer.
It wasn't long before the summer weather caused me to ditch the majority of my protective gear. My dad held onto the scarf as I teetered my way down the cul-de-sac. My bike was weaving down the street like a frat boy on a Saturday night. I was terrified of crashing, and pedaled cautiously - too cautiously. As I later learned in high school physics (and have subsequently forgotten), I needed enough forward speed in order to give the bike lateral stability. I was basically relying on my dad to keep me upright.
My dad is a clinical psychologist specializing in parenting. One of his lessons to parents of small children is to not "project linearly," or use a child's current behaviors to predict how they'll be as adults. I'm fairly certain that he had to practice this first-hand during his tenure as human training wheels to a verbally-precocious but athletically-stunted preschooler. He must have made the decision to let go of the scarf several seconds before I noticed that I was pedaling along on my own. Realizing that I had been betrayed by my loving father and was coasting solo, the adrenaline rush kicked in and I struggled to keep my balance. But letting go had done the trick; I was soon zipping around the neighborhood on two wheels, pretending my bike was a racehorse.
Embarrassingly, this wasn't the only time my dad used deception to help me become independent. Owning a horse as a teenager meant long days at the barn through all sorts of weather, and my parents were my chauffeurs. They urged me to get my driver's permit ASAP, so I could have the freedom of driving myself to the barn, being an autonomous pseudo-adult, and giving them time to be off-duty from the barn.
Teaching me to drive was an ordeal that wins my dad the Patience Trophy of Suburban Fatherhood, as I flat-out refused to drive outside of a parking lot for the first month of having my permit. And then, once I got on the roads, I never took the trusty Subaru above 30mph.
One day, while directing me in the passenger seat, my dad tricked me into merging onto a highway, and firmly told me that I had to accelerate to at least 55mph. It was terrifying. But once again, what I initially viewed as heartless betrayal was the kick in the pants I needed to literally get on the road to independence. It wasn't long before I was driving myself to the barn, blasting industrial metal and annoying drivers everywhere with my snail-paced driving.
He's been there for me when I put on a one-girl production of Bambi in the living room as a toddler, and when I wore all-black and kept my bedroom door firmly shut as a teenager. He steadfastly helped me through my struggles with young adulthood and college. He helped me pack all of my belongings in my horse trailer, and made the long drive with me and two yowling cats from Minnesota to Kentucky when I decided to celebrate surviving college by moving to Lexington. He's given advice when asked, and supported me from afar at all other times.
Both of my parents gave me a stable, nurturing home through my best and worst moments. My dad has become a stable and nurturing father figure to friends of mine whose dads were anything but. He helped teach me that it's okay to make mistakes and to laugh about them (and he continues to demonstrate this skill to this day). My dad is half of the team of the greatest role models I could hope for, and hopefully he appreciates this post in lieu of a Father's Day gift.
Love you, Dearest Dad! Thanks for all that you do, and remember that my next horse show is the second weekend of July!