When I was a child, my dad would leave early for work to grade papers at the university. My school was only a block from where he taught. Mom would drop me off early so she could get to work and I’d swing by the university cafeteria for a half hour. I could always spot my father sitting at the window, waiting for me.
I wish now that I’d discovered teaching with him, or that I had talked to him about his classes, but I never did. We’d play hangman on cafeteria napkins, or he and I would draw grids and play battleship the old fashioned way. He’d check in with me and see how I was doing.
Sometimes I’d wish I was somewhere else, or, as I moved on from grade school to junior high (all in the same school) I’d be annoyed that I had to stop in rather than heading in early to be with my friends. Now, though, I’d give anything to swing by that cafeteria and sit down with him for a game of hangman.
He was usually there when I got home from school, too. We lived in a little bungalow style house on a side street. Dad loved to sit on the screened porch in the afternoon. A lot of trees threw shade onto the porch, and you could hear birds singing as well as the winds stirring the leaves, or the passage of cars on the busier street beyond.
Sometimes Dad would be looking over a book he was teaching from, or reading the paper. More often, though, I’d just find him sitting peacefully, lost in thought.
“Hey Bud,” he’d say, and he’d ask me about my friends, or my day.
It wasn’t until I became a father myself that I realized just how important that had been to me. How much I hoped to emulate it (in spirit, if not in precise imitation). How much skill was involved in being present without being intrusive. And how reassuring it was to have him there. So steady. So certain. So dependable.
I don’t think that there was anything left unsaid between us. There’s no lingering pain about wishing I’d addressed this, or that, or some unresolved emotional crisis. I just miss him. In many ways, he set a high bar I’m still trying to reach.