There is this man that my mother knows. They’ve known each other for years. He was the auburn haired sailor during her college years, but, in my childhood, he was the sweet stranger who came to our door and took my single, working mother out to eat.
His auburn hair had begun to gather salt when we met, but he still had a glint in his eye and a talent. In the rare times when I’d go with them for coffee or pie (never both), he’d regale me with pictures that started as napkins. Flowers grew in a corner and led their stems into a woman’s soft, open hand. Always different, always exciting to an 8 year old who was sheepishly watching over her Mom as she sat with this man who was becoming less of a stranger.
It was this man, this friend, that took me to my first Father/Daughter Dance for my Girl Scout Troop when my own father was too sick with cancer to come.
He was the family that picked me up when I had an appointment. Came to my concerts when my father was no longer on this Earth to show his smile. He was the man I ran to when I needed help: a ride as a child; a place to stay during a snow storm with my Mom; and eventually gas money as a teen.
His panic-stricken face when he tried to help my very pregnant body over a baby gate showed up later and his hair had become much less auburn and mostly salt with reddish hues of pepper showing through.
He was the man in my life who tried to save me from my first marriage. By this point, he held space as a surrogate father, but I hadn’t told him my feelings. I wanted to be mad that he hated my husband, so I couldn’t. And I was ashamed when he was right and I finally left him, so I didn’t. Even when nothing changed when he welcomed me back.
The cane he used on occasion has become constant now. There is no more reddish hue; everything is white and gray. My new husband and our collective group of children make him smile. I hug him and he pretends to be flustered because he’s “not a hugger”…but there’s that glint in his eye that says there’s mischief in those words.
As I saw him today, I gave him two plates of Christmas cookies with a message of love from myself and the family. He asked if I was still teaching in the area and I said, ” Sure am!” He smiled and wiggled his cane with the pride he doesn’t speak and says, “That’s a bit of alright. That’s very good; very good.”
And I know what that means. I smile.
He doesn’t draw flowers with beautiful women anymore and he doesn’t know that in my head, I call him Dad. He doesn’t know he hasn’t been a stranger or just a man in years to me. And, you know? Maybe it’s time he does.
Maybe I’ll say it over coffee with flowers…