I miss my dad so much that while driving to work the other day, I tuned into a sports radio talk show. I don’t know anything about sports. I don’t care about sports at all. But the chatter on the radio made me smile. If you were riding in the car with my dad, there would be a 100% chance that sports would be on the radio. A game, a talk show. Either, or. Sports was my dad’s life.
My dad easily memorized stats; name the sport. He knew the up and coming college players and the long dead athletes that retired when he was a boy. He coached my brothers in baseball, football, and basketball. He’d watch sailing, boxing, golf, and even the WNBA. “These ladies can play. It’s real basketball. There’s none of that grandstanding and referee calls based on a player’s salary like the NBA,” he once told me, as if I had any idea what he was talking about. When he got a hold of the Internet, he was happy to share his many opinions on players, coaches, and the front office management (name the team) on message boards and Facebook.
Everything I know about sports you can put on the head of a pin so naturally, there wasn’t much to talk about between us. “Tell me about your childhood,” I’d ask him. “What did you like to do when you were a boy?”
“Oh, I don’t know…I don’t remember much about it. I remember living on the farm and going to a one-room schoolhouse. Then we moved to Lewiston and I lived with my parents. I went to St. Doms. Then joined the Air Force and married your mom. Later, you kids came along.”
There never was a lot of detail in my dad’s stories. They were more like a plot synopsis you’d read before deciding whether or not you wanted to see the movie.
My dad was raised on a dairy farm in the woods of northern, Maine. His maternal side was French-Canadian; his paternal side was colonial New England. His parents, living in Haverhill, Massachusetts at the time of his birth, dropped him off at his grandparent’s house as a baby and there he stayed until the age of ten, raised by his grandmother and alongside his mother’s younger siblings; his aunts, not much older than him. He did farm chores, spoke English and Québécois French and attended Catholic church, carefully memorizing his weekly Bible verses. When he moved in with his parents, he took beatings from his mother who I suspect suffered from mental illness. It had to be traumatic to be a ten year old boy, pulled away from the only family you’ve ever really known to go live with parents that you didn’t really know at all. But he got through it all making sure to forget every bit of pain or distress it caused him.
“I suppose it was difficult at the time” he’d say. “I honestly don’t remember.”
My dad was a good looking man; six feet tall, strong-boned, with a head full of thick, jet black hair well into his seventies. Women would comment on his attractiveness, even my friends when I became and adult, but he never could take a compliment. He could look like a movie star or a ham sandwich, it never mattered either way to him. When he passed away, I thanked the funeral director for making him look so good for his service. She said, “It was easy. He’s handsome.” He was eighty years old, had been dead a week, and he still could get compliments from the ladies. Damn.
He was a “Marlboro Man” in every sense of the term. He looked like the sort of man that would be happy to kick your ass should your ass need kicking. But looks are deceiving. If he ever got into any kind of fight, I never heard tell of it. He almost never swore and hardly ever drank; even a beer. I think I saw him drunk once. Thinking back on it, I’m not even sure if was really officially drunk. He could have just been in a really good mood and holding a beer at the time.
My father liked to tell the story of my birth. After three trips to the maternity ward resulting in four sons, he was so utterly flabbergasted at being the father of a daughter that the nurse, after coming into the waiting room to announce that his wife had just delivered a baby girl, nervously asked him, “Ummm…You are Mr Pratt, aren’t you?” “I just stood there staring at her. What’s that saying? Deer in the headlights? That’s it. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know I had the recipe for a girl,” he’d chuckle.
We had some very rough patches in our relationship while I was growing up, what with me being a over-dramatic pain in the ass and he not being particularly good with regular displays of emotion much less my teenage girl histrionics. My parents separated (again) when I was fourteen and I didn’t see or hear from him for months at a time. One day, he came over to my house, walked up behind me, wrapped his arms around me and said, “Your mother says that you think I don’t love you.”
“No, I don’t think you do,” I replied matter-of-factually. I pulled away from him sharply, got my purse, and left.
I only saw my father cry three times in my life. That was one of them.
When I was 22 years old, my father took me out to dinner. He said, “I know you and I haven’t always gotten along and I blame myself. I knew how to be a dad of boys. We had things in common. I just…didn’t know what to do with a daughter. And I’m sorry. I should have tried harder with you.” I apologized to him for being difficult. And dramatic. And for not trying harder, either. And at that moment, everything changed between us. Forever.
Riding alone together in the limousine on the way to get married, he turned to me and said, “I instructed the driver to stay in the car…in case you change your mind. Just head for the door. He’ll take you to my house. Don’t worry about it. I’ll handle your mother.” My parents had been divorced for a couple of years by then but remained good friends throughout the rest of their lives; a priceless gift they gave my brothers and me. Though, at the time, sitting in that limo, looking out the window, I wondered exactly how he planned on “handling” my mother, God bless him.
When I was pregnant with my first child, my mom called him at one o’clock in the morning to tell him that I was at the hospital, about to deliver his sixth grandchild. He drove over. And while it wasn’t something I’d planned, he was in the room alongside my husband and mom, in time for the delivery his granddaughter.
Afterward, my husband looked exhausted. My mother said, “Had I any idea of what actually happens in a delivery room on this end, there’s no way I’d have had any children at all.” My father brushed away tears and took my hand. “That baby girl is so precious. Just like you.” Later that day, he came back to visit me, an hour ahead of everyone else. He brought a big bouquet of flowers with a balloon and a little gift book about baby girls being gifts from heaven. He had “witnessed a miracle” and was still amazed by it all. He didn’t know what to do with himself. He sat in a chair next to my bed.
“Thank you for letting me be there, little girl.”
“You’re welcome, Daddy. I’m glad you were there, too.”
If my mother was fire, my father was water. Quiet. Predicable. Calm.
Calm is good, too.
Perpetually curious. I love history, genealogy, old movies, good books, all sorts of music, and adventures involving travel. In my spare time, I help admin a genetic genealogy Facebook page for CeCe Moore ("DNA Detectives") and coach people how to connect with their biological family using DNA.