I am three years old, and I am looking up at my dad. He is standing in front of me, his hands open, splayed out in a warm offering. “Come here, Hazel,” he says.
As I step into his outstretched arms, I giggle. He looks funny to me, his dark aviator sunglasses matching the black of his thick mustache, the one that tickles my cheeks when he kisses me goodnight.
My father’s strong hands lift me up, up, up, and then up some more. When he finally settles me on top of his shoulders, I suddenly can see everything. As I look out at the world through my green-brown eyes—the ones that are the reason for my beloved nickname—everything feels right: I feel safe. I feel important. I feel happy. I feel loved.
To him, I am the sunshine on his shoulders, but to me, he is my foundation, a steadfast, unwavering support that anchors me to every truth I’ve ever known.
* * *
Growing up, my relationship with my father was vastly different than the one I had with my mother. While my mother was my constant companion, my father’s job required endless hours of time and travel, and as he became more successful over the years—a testament to his drive, unwavering work ethic, and desire to provide a good, happy, stable life for his family—the more and more he was gone.
Although my dad’s busy career kept him physically absent from our home quite often, he provided for us on a level and in such a way that I always knew that everything that he did for us was done out of dedication and love. Indeed, when work wasn’t pulling him away, he was home, focusing on his family. And though it seemed like he didn’t have much of it to spare, he always managed to make time for me:
When I was little and scared of falling asleep by myself, he would lay in bed next to me and sing Corey’s Coming, his soft, warm voice providing much needed comfort.
On warm, hazy days, he would pull out our ’68 Camaro Convertible, and we would take leisurely drives, ones full of sunshine and music and fun. When a hill would be right around the corner, he’d rev the engine and speed up. As the road finally dropped, our stomachs would, too, and we’d love the sensation so much we’d beg to do it over and over again.
When I was in eighth grade and learned we would be moving yet again, he would invite me outside to play catch with him. The thick, twilight-filled Tennessee air would be humid enough to carry the ball—and my fears of moving—over his way, where he would catch them both with ease, keeping the ball safe in his mitt and my worries in his heart.
During the weekends I was in high school, he would put our cars out in the driveway so we could wash them together, an easy excuse for the two of us to catch up. Later, he would invite me out to the garage as he tinkered around, an opportunity for the two of us to simply hang out and sing along to the Top 40 Country Music Countdown that crackled out from the radio on his old stereo speakers.
* * *
My father’s job has changed in recent years, and the less travel it requires allows him more opportunities to do the things he loves: spend time with my mom, ride his motorcycle, travel for leisure, and visit his children and grandchildren. Because of this, he and I have found new ways to connect.
The birth of my daughter, Zoey, was a big one. From day one, the two of them have had an instant connection, and it makes perfect sense since they are so much alike: They are stubborn and silly and smart and set in their ways. When I watch them interact together, I often find myself overwhelmed with love, seeing these two people I love so much love each other so fiercely. And when I see my father dote on my daughter, I’m reminded of what kind of father he was to me, one who dispensed love and kindness and time whenever the opportunity presented itself.
I was reminded of that this past week when my father traveled to China for a business trip. Although he was busy with limited spare time, he still managed to share his love and kindness and fun halfway across the world. Every day he sent us photos and text messages, all centered around Zoey’s famous imaginary mouse, Lulu.
Lulu was created a few years ago as a friend and comfort for Zoey when she transitioned to a new school, and a trip to IKEA a year or so back provided an opportunity to make that little black mouse come to life (in stuffed animal form, at least). My father of course bought two—one for Zoey, and one for him—so they often FaceTime and discuss Lulu’s recent antics, both in Ohio and in Colorado.
But over the course of a week, it appeared the Ohio Lulu was having quite the time in China, and her escapades captured on camera by my father kept Zoey in stitches:
And it wasn’t just Zoey he remembered. After my last Everyday Nostalgia post on sunshine was published, my dad called to tell me how much he enjoyed it, and how as he read it, John Denver’s Sunshine on My Shoulders started playing on his phone.
“Serendipty,” he called it.
There he was—thousands of miles and an ocean away on a business trip—making the time to let me know he was thinking of me.
My father is a man of few words, so these gestures touched our hearts. When it comes to him, the time and effort he puts forth is just one of the many ways he says, “I love you.”
* * *
In a few weeks, my father will be here to visit Zoey and me. He will unpack his bags and hand over to Zoey all the treats and treasures he collected for her during his China trip. We will laugh and play games and go swimming and listen to music. Later, when it cools off enough to go visit the park, we will head down the street as the sun starts making its descent into the horizon. Zoey will skip along happily, encouraging her Grandpy Dude—as she so fondly calls him—to try to keep up with her.
“Oh, come here, Yoda,” my dad will say, using the nickname he gave her when she was just an infant, one that he bestowed because he swore she looked like the wise, old Jedi creature from Star Wars. Zoey will slow down enough to smile and step into his arms, and then—just like he did all those years ago with me—he will hoist her up onto his shoulders.
I know I will look up at the two of them as we walk along—a silly little parade of a Dude, a Hazel, and a Yoda—and I won’t be able to blame the fading sunlight of the day for the tears that fill my eyes. I will look up at my father, his metal-rimmed sunglasses now replaced by modern plastic ones, his dark Zappa-esque mustache now mostly gray, and know that although he is older, he is the same man—and the same father—I’ve always known.
And I will look up at my daughter—this little girl who loves her grandfather with everything she has—and see a radiant glow from that sweet sunshine that sits upon my father’s safe, strong shoulders: because up there, Zoey feels important. She feels happy. She feels loved.
I know this, because I was once that girl.
While I don’t fit on his shoulders anymore, I am still that girl looking up to him. I look up to him for everything he does and for everything he is: for his time, his generosity, his kindness, his tenacity, his determination, and for his good, good heart. Every time I look to him, these hazel eyes are filled with endless amounts of pride, respect, awe, and love, and I know his little Yoda’s blue ones will always do the same, too.
Dad, for everything you do for me, for Zoey, for all of us—thank you.
We are so very lucky to call you ours. I love you so very much.
Happy Father’s Day.
* * *
Let Us Know: What are some of your favorite memories of your father?
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At the The Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.