By Danielle Charbonneau
I was born about an hour before the start of Father’s Day on June 20, 1987. My dad was always proud of the fact that his first official day as a Father was Father’sDay. I was six weeks early, so he always joked I pushed through on purpose. I suppose you could say I was a so-called “daddy’s girl” from the very beginning.
My parents got divorced when I was about six and split custody; my dad never remarried, so from about kindergarten until the time he passed last year (when I was 29 and he was 62), it was primarily just the two of us on most occasions. Though often bittersweet (with baggage attached), our father daughter relationship was something I always treasured. With father’s day approaching (only my second without my dad) I have been reflecting on some of the lessons I learned from his life — both the do’s, and the don’ts.
DO: Road Trip
Some of my fondest memories are of road trips to Yellowstone National Park where we saw buffalo, geysers and multi-colored hot springs. The road trip from Colorado was long, so my dad would fold down the back seats and make me a plush bed with pillows and a sleeping bag. A cooler with cold drinks, a bag of snacks, games and oodles of coloring books kept me entertained and fed as we traversed Wyoming. We’d spot things outside the car and play Eye Spy while listening to Pat Benatar, Shawn Colvin and other acoustic sets on cassette.
Memories of camping on these trips flood my mind too — roasting marshmallows, making sloppy joe’s and playing guitar by the camp fire. I can still remember the sense of awe I would get looking toward the sky — the millions, upon millions of stars above, the dark silhouette of the Rocky Mountains in the distance and the hot embers crackling from the fire, floating upward until they faded into the dark.
Camping was always fun with the exception of breaking down camp. My dad was an obsessive-compulsive freak when it came to properly cleaning, folding and packing the equipment with an engineer’s precision (my dad was an electronic engineer). Which brings me to a don’t…
DON’T: Take things too seriously
My dad was a bit of a perfectionist — so much so that he measured wrapping paper with a ruler and pencil to make his present wrapping skills precise. When camping, folding the tent properly could throw him into a fit of hot rage. I have thus learned that getting worked up over small things can poison otherwise joyful experiences.
DO: Listen to music loud and on vinyl
My dad’s first (and arguably only) true love was music. He had a vinyl collection collectors would drool over. Amps, pre-amps, record players, speakers — he had all the best equipment. As a girl, he would sit me down, glue me to the couch and “force” me to listen to his music loud — I mean really listen — to the story each album told. When I’d ask him to turn it down, he’d turn it up and shout over the electric guitar riffs, “Music is meant to be listened to loud!” I have since come to appreciate really listening, and the distinct sound of vinyl.
DO: Make family traditions
Tradition was important to my dad — especially holiday traditions. One year we were attempting to drive to my aunt’s house in the middle of a blizzard for a traditional Christmas Eve feast, but the whiteout conditions got too severe to drive. We pulled off the road to find a little hole-in-the-wall Chinese Restaurant behind a grocery store. After eating lo-mein and sesame chicken, we drove around the neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights in the snow. This became an annual tradition lasting the last 15 years. Still, every Christmas Eve, no matter where I’m living, I eat Chinese food.
DO: Hold onto your hobbies
My dad was an incredible photographer and artist. He was accepted on scholarship to a prestigious east coast art school, but, under the urging of his own father, chose a more “rational” path and became an electronic engineer. I have always wondered what would have happened if he had followed his creative impulses over the rational. With time, his hobbies eventually faded, which I believe dampened his spirit.
DON’T: Let resentment or addiction isolate you
While my dad could be fun, inspired, creative and intellectual, he could also be stubborn, resentful and argumentative. His love for cheap vodka and an unwillingness to put it down had devastating consequences. In the end, he died alone in his home, an alcoholic. Resentments within his extended family isolated him; and a stubborn insistence on drinking and holding on to stale anger was the largest shadow cast on his otherwise lovely life.
In remembering my dad’s life, the biggest struggle I’ve had is accepting two truths: that he was both an incredibly loving, compassionate man; and also a man with personal demons. My final bit of dad-inspired, unsolicited advice (mostly to myself) is to forgive — to remember the lessons inherent in both the joyful and the dark — to hold in my hands both the beauty and ashes.
Happy Father’s Day dad. You will be missed.