Happy Birthday Daddy

To my daddy – on his birthday.

I don’t remember every day and neither do you, but between the two of us, we have 36 years of moments. We have memories, anecdotes, stories. I’ve enjoyed the ride of life with a dad who did his share of driving me around when I needed it – and now is happy to sit in the car next to me and cheer. (Of course this is just figuratively since we all know you will never allow anyone other than you to drive.)

I remember the matchbox you gave me in the crib and you remember me perched atop your shoulder for long walks through the woods in Kiev. I remember telling you to quit smoking and you remember how my words motivated you to quit cold turkey. You remember my first word and I remember the first time you let me take the Isuzu Trooper around the parking lot. You remember rocking me and I remember when you told me I was too old to be carried anymore.

I remember the “Electronic Box” that you made me for a science project. I used it two years in a row.

I remember you dancing with mommy – your special way with the legs kicking out and hands frolicking above your head. I know she was part of your first life, but there were happy memories sprinkled through there. I like to hold onto those; souvenirs of an upbringing that could easily all be tainted by just a bad ending. (Bad being a judgment to mean ‘not what I expected.’)

We also have the memories of tears that make us laugh now.

I remember the years at the donut shop. A collective memory for both of us, the Donut Shop Years are a series of snapshots and smells that bring me right back to Time Out 4 Donuts. Powdered sugar on the cake donuts, eggs over easy on the greasy grill, the bowl of bacon fat, the huge tubs of raw cookie dough, the dried-up sugar glaze on your sweatpants.

Then there was my part at the Shop. I remember all the weekend mornings I had to be there at 7am. (Do you ever wonder why I love to sleep so much now?) I remember the trips to Jetro. I remember the night shift. We peeled the over-cooked potatoes into home fries for the next morning; we refilled the Heinz ketchup bottles with the large Hunts ketchup; we bleached the counters, we scrubbed the grill by standing on the milk crate and we did a massive throwing out of the donuts into the 50-pound paper bags from sugar.

I remember your shady office in the back where you used to count out cash and shove it into small white envelopes for payroll. I remember that we made $3/hour + tips. I remember the secret walkway to the back of the shopping plaza so we could take a shortcut to Pathmark.

Mostly I remember the people. Customers and workers who somehow became a part of the story, peripheral characters to a bigger tale. Marlene with the stretched earlobes, the two Doloreses (Fat and Skinny), crazy Dotty, drunk Diane. We got angry, we fought, and we forgave – because for better or worse, these people were our extended family.

I always thought I was wasting my life in that Shop. I thought I was too good to peel potatoes and pour coffee – but you told me that everything in life is a learning experience. You told me that I’d use these skills again. You were right – and not just because I make a great breakfast. I inadvertently learned about business, commitment, work ethic and customer service.

So much of my adolescence is wrapped up in that donut shop. I hated you for it then, but when the novel comes out, I’ll be thanking you.

I remember the morning you told me baba died. I remember your eyes and the cognac in front of you.

I remember when you dropped me off in Boston. I hugged you in the parking lot and started to sob. I remember what you told me, “Call me anytime of day and I’ll come back and bring you home.” I remember calling you at 5am because I was itchy and couldn’t sleep. And I knew you’d be awake.

We both remember the bet you made me that I would make $100,000 by the time I was 25. We also both remember me losing that bet.

Then there was my “first” wedding – where I remember our dance and way you looked at me and I looked back at you to the tune of “What a Wonderful World.” This is the only lasting memory from that day almost a decade ago.

I remember when I made you a grandpa, a role you were born to play. I remember you holding Jake when he was 6-months-old singing, “Mambo Italiano” – making him explode in giggles. (And we all know how stingy Jake was doling out his giggles.)

I remember Jake’s first birthday – you were the only one he wanted there. You are his deda and you will always have that special bond. I can’t wait to see the new unique connection you’ll form with Mackenzie, your newest little bubby.

I remember how you always tell me, “You can write.” I believe you (finally) and am finally writing it all down. The good and the bad – and the funny. I promise that when the book comes out and you see any similarity to the dad character, I will deny everything.

On this birthday, as I reflect on some of the moments of our daddy/daughter journey, I thank you for the years. For the love and support you’ve given me. For the times you’ve carried me, driven me, painted for me, fixed me when I felt so broken … thank you. I always think you were a great father to me.

I wish you a happy birthday – and a life filled with peace, love, health, happiness, laughter and ease. I hope you can reflect on the life you’ve lived with nostalgia and pride rather than with disappointment.

Yesterday a 90-something man ran the marathon. I saw that story and thought, “That’s totally my dad. He would absolutely do something like that.” You’d better believe when that happens, I’ll be the loudest one on the sidelines cheering!

Happy Birthday – I love you!

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