June 14, 2014 by Julia
When I was around twenty-four years old, newly married and stuck in a design job that filled me with unspeakable dread, my dad and I sat in a waiting room while my mom underwent surgery for breast cancer.
My mom did okay in surgery, and she survived the year of radiation and other hospital procedures, and she has been cancer-free for at least ten years, now. One of my biggest regrets is when she showed me her bald head in her bedroom during the radiation, and she started crying, and I didn’t hug her because I didn’t know how to in the moment. The thing about mothers and daughters is that the love goes so deep, and is so utterly complicated and dependent that sometimes we are paralyzed by it.
But this is about dads, for Father’s Day. Specifically, the two dads I know best – my own, and the father of my children, Dennis.
Hey, Dad – are you crying yet? Because I am! (I am blessed to have a softie for a father.)
Anyway. My dad and I had time to kill in the hospital waiting room, but for obvious reasons, it was heavy time. It wasn’t just a lazy afternoon.
I don’t remember how the conversation went, exactly, but somehow I ended up describing the woman I worked for, and how miserable I was in my job. I had interned at this residential interior design firm while I got my Bachelor’s in interior design and architecture, and it turned into a full-time job once I’d graduated, as expected. The problem was, the owner of the design firm was a terror.
Many of my classmates came and went, unwilling to put up with her fury and demands, her belittlement and micromanaging. Her handwriting was illegible, she was always late, she once asked a friend and co-worker of mine feed her a salad while driving to a client meeting. She was the kind of person who would put you on the spot in front of that client the second something went wrong, and turn you into the scapegoat. She didn’t care if it was awkward. She terrified me and crushed my soul, basically.
I learned her ways of doing design, but had no confidence in my own design instincts, because she ridiculed them. I walked on eggshells constantly, and rushed rushed rushed to the point that when friends opted to work for her (always temporarily, and against my advice) they said I was nearly unrecognizable. I didn’t take lunch breaks or phone calls. I never stopped moving. And yet she remarked that I was “more thorough than my peers, but also slower.”
The stress was so unbearable that I somehow negotiated her into giving me four-day work weeks, under the belief that it was so intense that five days would be too much. But I always felt that she wanted me on that fifth day. A phone call from her on one of my days off would drag me down to the underworld of dread. I couldn’t rest until I called her back. You know The Devil Wears Prada movie? I was her Anne Hathaway.
Until my dad helped me to realize it was time to quit, finally. We were sitting in that hospital waiting room.
He didn’t tell me to quit. He asked me questions until I knew that it was time.
Again, I don’t remember the exact conversation. I just remember his patience, and his common sense, and his way of guiding me back to the truth and myself. There were questions like, “What would happen if you quit, even with no other job prospects?” and simple questions like, “Why do you stay if it makes you so unhappy?”
And then I just knew. I left the hospital that day with a calm resolve to tell my boss that I had decided to quit. It just had to be done, even if I ended up jobless. Dennis was making enough that although our finances would be tight, we could pay our bills until I found a new job. Somehow, I started to believe that maybe not all jobs are this bad; maybe I could be happier somewhere else.
My dad was studying coaching at the time, I think, which helped. But he’s always had that gentle, respectful, thoughtful approach. I am grateful for that talk, because I did follow through and quit that job, which I still have nightmares about to this day. I feel blessed to have him as a father.
There is a certain pride we like to have in our fathers, which I have – he is a transcendently gifted classical pianist, he is almost always the tallest person in the room, at 6’-6,” he has a laid-back, intelligent, artistic persona, his name is Viscount, for crap’s sake. But he wasn’t a distant father, to be looked up to but not spoken to. He was honest with us as kids, and we were with him. He is goofy and easy and kind. I think we analyze things the same way, and we are both drawn to studies of human nature, to texts of philosophy and spirituality and soulfulness, as well as literature. I am a very lucky daughter.
Now, Dennis holds a grudge about that story, because he was telling me to quit that job for months before my dad had that one memorable talk with me. He likes to quip, “Well, maybe if your dad tells you to do it, you will,” and it’s become a joke.
Speaking of great dads…and Dennis…
You know what one of the best things in the world is? When you overhear your co-parent with your children, and they are laughing and running around and giddy with delight. Both the parent and the child.
He just started drawing lessons with Fiona today. It’s something they have in common, this love for plain pencil and paper. She never liked coloring books – she’d rather start from scratch. It’s all about the expressions on faces, and the storytelling, and showing personality. Kind of like her father, the animator.
And Jack. He gets tossed out of his dad’s arms like a cannonball, like a pebble from a slingshot, and he gets chased and wrestled and snuggled.
My husband is the best of all the worlds, when it comes to dads. He is a provider and protector, a playmate and a teacher, a caregiver. He models what a good man looks like, and he gives our children his time, his affection, his attention.
I love him dearly for it, among other things.
Happy Father’s Day to Dennis, and my dad, and all of the other good dads out there, sacrificing and working for your children, as well as delighting in them, and giving them the best parts of you.