When I was a little girl, my father drove an old white Plymouth Duster, and he used to let me climb in through the window like I was one of the Dukes of Hazzard, getting in by way of my grubby sandals on his seat. When he came to pick me up from my mom's house on weekends, I would run out to the old, familiar car and get in, with a great joy suddenly inside me—a joy made of the musty, closed-in, old smell of his car, with its floorboards full of magazines that shifted under my feet, and the not-yet-known location we might go to eat our lunch, and the possibility of adult attention that I could have entirely to myself.
At my dad's apartment, when he first had an apartment away from us, I would sit behind his kitchen counter and he let me order my snack from him. What I always ordered was Marie cookies a glass of Like cola. He was prepared for this and produced them right away. I ate the sweet biscuits and drank the soda and then we walked across the way to where there was oak forest and supernatural creatures could be found. I was seven at the time. I talked about the Carrion Crow and her minions and my dad listened with interest, and hummed. Always, he whistled and hummed. I drew pictures of the planet I said I had come from and my dad looked at them, asked questions, and approved. I made up songs and my dad recorded them, set them to a drum machine, and played them back for both of us. I wrote up small performances and cast him in roles which he performed as I told him to.
"Pretend that I'm a mermaid," I told him.
And he did.
Dad didn't sign me up for music lessons that I hadn't asked for. He didn't give me unasked-for books on how to draw or how to write. He didn't correct my spelling or my choice of words. He just provided an interested audience and let my encouraged creativity work out the rest. As a result, I was a writer and an actress and a singer, an artist and a playwright. I needed no one's permission, having been given the impression that my own permission was enough.
When I was a teenager, I moved in with Dad and that was when he taught me how to cook. Carefully, he'd walk through one meal or the other, explaining how to mince garlic and how to make a roux, how to slowly add liquid, how to thicken a too-thin sauce. Once, for his birthday, I tried to make Mushu Vegetables with homemade pancakes and the pancakes were revoltingly lumpy and thick, inedible. Dad wasn't disappointed. He never seemed to be expecting anything. He was pleased that I had tried.
When, at 22, I was in the hospital giving birth to my first baby, Dad called us on the phone.
"I wonder if there's going to be heavy traffic heading up that way," he said.
We told him it would be a little while, that he should wait.
Later, he called again.
"It's getting close to rush hour," he pointed out.
Still not having the baby, we said.
The phone rang again.
"I'm on my way," he said.
He arrived just after Rowan came into the world, like a tiny, angry wizened grape, and was lifted off by scrub-clad cherubim to the Intensive Care Nursery away from me.
"Do you want me to order Thai food?" Dad asked.
We said yes.
Dad is a dream-tender. Last summer, when my youngest, Mikalh, came upon a street musician in the Boston Commons who handed him a small violin to try, he decided to become a violinist. I called my dad.
"Can you pay for lessons?" I asked.
"Yes!" he said, enthusiastically.
When my middle child, Devin, wanted to go to an expensive sleep-away music camp in the mountains this summer to study his tuba, he called Grandpa Rick.
"We're trying to raise 200 more dollars," Devin said. "Just give what you can."
Dad sent all of it.
Dad reads my blog and he tells me, when we talk on the phone, how much he enjoys what I am writing. I tell him how much I have to learn as a writer and he tells me, "Don't sell yourself short."
My dad, knows something about creativity because he, himself, is an accomplished musician. He has studied Indian music and Jazz and learned to play six instruments. Now, his favorite instrument is his voice.
Thanks, Dad, for 38 years of encouragement. Happy Father's Day to you.