Black Haired Doll
A couple weeks ago when B and I were watching a show about Tahiti I mentioned to him that when I was little my father went to Tahiti a couple times on business. On one of the trips he brought back for me a Tahitian doll - one of a Tahitian dancer. She had long, black hair with a white flower tucked in it, a perfect figure, a grass skirt and a little bra-like top to match, and a necklace of real wee tiny shells. I adored that doll and I often wonder what happened to her after I moved away from my parents' home and left my childhood things behind there.
Until I was about eleven years old my father traveled on long business trips for the engineering company for which he worked and he would often bring me back small gifts. After the Vietnam war was over he went there for about three months to aid in finding downed American planes and when he returned he gave my mother, my sister and me jade pendents. On one trip he brought me back a miniature porcelain tea set that I played with for years. The teapot had written on it in gold "Atlanta" and it had a picture of what I assume is the state capital building. I know now that he must have picked it up in the airport in Atlanta and I can picture him rushing into a gift shop to get it for me on his way back home, not wanting to disappoint me when I asked him the inevitable "Didja bring me something, Daddy?".
This was all before the time when our relationship grew more fragile. Before the days when he went on drinking binges that made him surly and argumentative. Before the days when he grew more distant and disapproving and I often saw him only as being demanding. It was before I would go out of my way to avoid him in order to avoid his harsh rebukes.
I never enjoyed the close relationship that I saw my friends have with their own fathers. I longed for that and had no idea of how to obtain it from my father. It seems as if I didn't know him very well and I was scared to try. Scared to open myself to the possibility of rejection. Instead our relationship turned into one of confrontations and disagreements and I'm afraid I spent more time screaming ugly words to him than not or else avoiding him completely.
Years later when my nephews were born a slow change started with my dad. He could still be harsh and distant but he was crazy about my brother's boys. One day when coming by my parents' home on my way home from work I found my dad up on a step ladder hanging Christmas lights on the porch. He hadn't done it in at least fifteen years and when I asked my mother about it (notice that I didn't bother to ask my dad even though I passed right by him) she said that he'd told her "The boys (meaning my nephews) need to have Christmas lights.". I was touched by this even though there was a slight pang of envy. How come me and my siblings didn't rate outdoor Christmas lights after I'd reached the age of eight years old?
There's a popular story in my family about the time in early 1991 when my father and mother went to Los Angeles to visit my oldest brother and his family. They'd all driven down to San Diego to visit Sea World and sometime during the visit my brother had his two oldest boys with him looking at something and my mother and sister-in-law were with the youngest boy, Stephen, in his stroller and my father was nowhere to be seen. My SIL left Stephen with my mom and went off to look for my dad. A few minutes later she returned and said "You won't believe what I've just seen.".
My father was famous for hating long lines. Waiting in line made him wildly impatient and he would simply leave and do without something if the line to get it was more than maybe three deep. My SIL found my dad in a gift shop in an extremely long line so he could purchase for Stephen a ball cap that said on the front "I (heart) Baby Shamu". They were all - my mother, my brother and my SIL - incredulous that my father would wait in a long line just to buy that cap.
When my dad caught up with them and put the cap on Stephen's head one of them asked "Why would you wait in such a long line to get that thing?" and my dad replied simply "Stevie needed it.".
And there he was again. There was the man that brought me back a jade pendent from Vietnam. A snowglobe from Canada. A stuffed bear from California. The man who rushed into an airport gift shop in Atlanta to buy me a miniature tea set. The man who brought me back a black haired doll from Tahiti.
A couple months after that day at Sea World my father had a cerebral aneurysm that left him in a persistant vegetative state. For the next nine months until he died he was cared for us by our family at home. I'd like to think that during those last months of his life the harsh, judgemental, distant father I had for most of my life was gone and in his place was the daddy I had when I was five years old. The granddaddy my nephews had.
Today is my daddy's birthday. He'd have been eighty-one years old. We lost him when he was only sixty-six. I'd like to say that I think of him every day but I'm afraid that I don't. I loved him dearly but I didn't really know him like I wanted to know him. I don't always have the best memories of him but I'm learning to put them in their proper place. I'm learning how to forgive those old hurts that left me with scars and put me on the path to make some very unwise decision over the years. I'm starting to think less often about those long, hurtful years and remember more often the sweet moments when I had a daddy that would wait in a line for me to get me something just because he thought I needed it.