Monday, October 16, 2006
REFLECTIONS OF A HERO
Upon returning home from a solo trip to church one Sunday morning, I was greeted by Cadence emerging from the bathroom “clean and shiny” with her wet hair neatly combed. I was pleased to see that Brad had bathed her, perhaps for the third time in her two and a half little years, but it was the neatly combed wet hair that sent me riveting backward in time. “Did Daddy comb your hair?” I asked. “Yep!” she smiled and suddenly I was sitting on the brown carpet of the den with my back resting against my father’s knees having my wet locks detangled.
It was not any sort of regular ritual. In fact, just having my father home and awake was a treat in itself. I suppose he didn’t work so much more than other people did, but his rotating policeman hours meant he was often sleeping or working when we were awake. In many ways, my dad was a mystery to me. Often, I would see him wake as we were trailing off to bed.
Seated at the wood grained laminate table beside the kitchen window, he would make a meal out of peanut butter crackers. Butter knife in, spread on unsalted side of Ritz cracker, cover placed on top, salt side up. He would never eat a single one until he had the entire sleeve assembled and stacked in two perfect towers. Methodically, he would polish his shoes to a perfect shine, strap on his weapons and fearlessly head out into the dark to rid the world of crime. There was no doubt about it. In my mind, my dad was a superhero.
The image was affirmed for me in third grade when I brought his “Commendation” in to school for show and tell. Normally, I would be too shy to stand in front of the class to speak, but the framed piece of paper said my dad went beyond the call of duty. Holding it just beneath my chin for the class to view, I felt its power and I bravely stood and shared the story of my father’s efforts to stop a criminal. I watched the faces of the students, eyes wide, stretching for a good view. The children of plumbers, bankers, businessmen and carpenters. They stared with looks of envy, amazement and awe and I surely walked a little taller that day.
Not only was my dad a crime-fighting hero, but he could fix anything! From sinks to hairdryers, my dad did it all. I never worried when something went awry; my dad did what had to be done. He approached most of life this way; giving up sleep for that extra job or passing up lunch to save money for Christmas gifts. He had the discipline to work through anything. He had uncanny tenacity whether it was solving a jigsaw puzzle or a brainteaser; there was no quitting until the job was done. To this day, I regret not inheriting just a little bit of that diligence and discipline that placed my dad on higher ground.
When I was in college, my dad morphed from superhero to the knight in shining armor who would ride in on his white horse (police car) to rescue me from flat tires, empty gas tanks and muggings. He was always just minutes away no matter what the crisis, which leads me to believe now that he watched more carefully than I realized. Still, he seemed to know when to step in and when to look the other way.
I felt like a celebrity when I entered the police station and walked passed the security desk. The title “Serge’s daughter” brought privileges that few were entitled to and came in very handy when caught speeding.
But it was the hair combing that brings the fondest memory of my dad. Like my daughter, I had long and sometimes unruly hair that was a challenge to tame after washing. Like my mother before me, I do my best to comb my daughter’s hair in a kind and civilized fashion, but the time management of motherhood does not allow for the luxury of totally pain-free combing. On those unusual days when my dad was home and awake in the evening and my mom was still occupied with some other mundane task, my dad would comb the tangles out. He approached each on with the same determination he faced a jigsaw puzzle and yet he never once tugged a hair on my head. Slowly and gently, this crime-fighting superhero produce neatly combed hair that brought a smile to the otherwise dreaded task and moments of closeness that were ordinarily missing.
As I stood looking at my daughter, I gladly surrendered to letting Daddy do it better, knowing that a hero was growing in her heart. It made me aware of the small things that I defer to her “daddy” for fixing or solving and made me wonder what role my mother played in this image building. The twinkle in her two year old “yep” said quite clearly, “my daddy can do anything!” and it warmed my heart to know exactly how that felt.
I don’t ask my dad to save me anymore. My dad may no longer fight crime or fix my flat tires and I don’t know the last time he combed my hair, but I know that if I bring my dad a tangle, he’ll still remove it without tugging, just the way a superhero should.