One of the many things that makes my father the man he is—the tinkerer; the fixer; the chauffeur even for children that are old enough to drive and really should be independent but have not quite gotten the hang of it yet; the hanger of pictures that would otherwise slant crooked on the bedroom wall; the filler of car tires and gas tanks and empty stomachs which all require filling more frequently than they should; the answerer of questions, even the stupid ones, or maybe especially the stupid ones—one of all these many things that makes him, well, him, is the way he will stop whatever he is doing, put down his tools or gloves or dishes, cock his head to the side and listen to whatever needs to be listened to. Now my father, through whatever heavenly luck of the draw exists, is the father of six daughters and one son, and none of us are particularly quiet, so the listening part, the patient part, the part that sets aside the things that need to be done for the things that need to be said and told and heard became the part that I most treasure about him. The way he would pack too many kids into a too-small car and take us for a Sunday ride in the country, all the while listening to our wild and wooly ramblings about school and church and boys, except for my brother, who would pretend he didn’t know what we were talking about, but would eventually chime in, just as garrulous as the rest, particularly when he thought no one was noticing. And the way my father joins in on our family text thread now that we are grown and old, with children of our own, and have scattered across counties and states and we keep in touch through text tones and memes and emoji and we get carried away and find we have sent him two hundred and two texts in an hour, everyone pitching in with their own conversations and opinions, as loud and as opinionated as ever, just in black and white. And the way he picks up the phone when I call to ask him to listen to something I have written, and he not only listens, but comes up with thoughts I haven’t considered before in a deliberate and attentive manner that manages to convey both encouragement and pride. And the way he holds my mother’s hand, now, three years after her stroke, and listens to her still stumbling speech and lets her finish before he helps her fill in the blanks that have been left behind, the blanks that used to be filled with words and stories and recipes and music and memories. And the way he is always there, even when you have run out of words, or don’t know what to say, or have forgotten the important things in the chaos of everyday, how he is there for you when you remember, waiting with a joke or a hug or a ride or advice, especially when it is advice you want, but more especially when it is advice you don’t. This listening part is the part that I most treasure, the part that I try to remember when my own children are driving me crazy with their talking and shouting and raging and weeping and laughing, at all hours of the day but especially at night —why do they always find a million things to say to you at night? And this is the thing that I am trying to do, and find that it is harder than I thought, to be gentle and encouraging when you don’t want to be gentle and encouraging, to look at your children the whole time they are speaking, waiting for their story to find its beginning, middle, and end, alert to the clues that tell you not only what they are saying but also what they mean, to see their faces and celebrate the rhythm and the beat of their speech, and it is only as I have become a mother to children and then teenagers and now young adults that I realize what a gift it was that he gave us, the gift not only of time that seemed to spiral out in endless spills of speech, but also of attention and space. And this is what he has done for each of us: my mother, my five sisters, my brother, and me.
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