Thursday, December 13, 2012

Memories of my Dad

Without getting into the difficulty of mining through my childhood memories... I am a terrible letter writer.

This year, in addition to a regular Christmas letter (which I've only done a few times since the tradition began), we've been asked to celebrate Dad's Christmasday birthday by sharing through email our memories of him. This has been a knot in my stomach since the request went out 2 weeks ago. For every wonderful thing, there is another incredibly painful memory that fights to get my attention.

Today, I managed the letter.

 Picking through the bits and pieces of a scattered memory, there are glowing pieces worthy of framing and hanging in the rooms of a mind that sometimes still tends toward darkness.

- The feel of small hands on Dad’s forehead when riding his shoulders. Feeling big and tall and safe on those strong shoulders. Covering his eyes to be silly. But more than anything, the sense of pride in having that time just with him.

- Walking with Dad (I think at Goshen) through the forest and seeing my first beaver. The patience and passion in Dad’s voice as he told me about how they build their dams. It was like seeing a Wonder of the World.

- The dancing doll. I purchased one several years ago at a craft show but have yet to master Dad’s ability to make the little man dance. It was always such a special occasion when the dancing man came out to do a jig along to Freddy Fender music. Dad and the doll together were magical.

- Being allowed to participate in Scout meetings. I can remember standing with the Scouts, all in a line on the front walk in Dale City, learning John Jacob Jingle Heimer Smith and all the other wonderful songs I’ve tried to pass on to my own kids.

- Bedtime stories. The nights when Chris and I would beg Dad to make up one of his silly songs or stories before we went to sleep. He was so good at his silly songs, there are a handful of classic children’s songs I was convinced he’d made up as well.

- Josephina Seraphina Marquadul Oscar Pickadilly Rose Tony Pedro Junior. I was 6 when I heard Dad answer the phone with “Richard Dick Quintana” and realized maybe that was his real name. To this day, it’s one of my favorite Grampy stories with my own kids. It’ll carry on through Dad’s kids to their kids and on until it becomes a small legend about the man with the coolest name.

- The cradle made for my 8th Christmas. The handmade gifts that year will forever be among my greatest treasures.

- Six Flags and my first upside down roller coaster. I know I had nagged and begged and whined to ride it. When Dad agreed, as we were leaving the park, I was ecstatic… until we got it line. I spent the entire wait in line trying to convince Dad I’d changed my mind. It was the scariest thing I could imagine and I no longer wanted to do it. By our turn, I was crying hysterically. On the ride, I sat hunched over, eyes closed, with a death grip on the rails. When Dad told me to open my eyes, I looked up and saw the ground. This thing I’d wanted and feared so much became the most exhilarating thing I’d ever done. I’ll forever be grateful to Dad for making me go through with it.

- Music. Always there was music, but the nights when Dad would bring out his guitar and play along while Nora, Zac and I danced around were the best.

- I think I was about 14 the day I asked Dad to walk a little behind me so it wasn’t obvious I was with an adult. I’d walked maybe 20 feet before I heard something strange and turned to find Dad, in his work suit, doing an exaggerated Igor walk, with snuffling and grunting included. I asked him to walk with me and never again tried to pull the “I’m not with him” in public again. At the time it was mortifying. With each passing year it becomes more of a treasured and hysterical moment. I think that was the same day he purchased several cases of beer then asked the shocked cashier if they took food stamps. The brilliance of Dad’s dry wit was a perception changer that day.

There are so many others… but the memory that guides me to this day is the one that truly showed me who Dad is at his very core.

I’d been invited to a military school ball in Front Royal. On the way home, we stopped at a diner in a small mountain town. I was exceedingly uncomfortable, dressed to the nines and with my business suit attired Dad in a place which was the poorest I could ever remember seeing. I think I tried to tell Dad we should go somewhere else… but he insisted.

Within moments of sitting down, the various people in the diner began coming over to talk to Dad and to meet the daughter he’d so bragged to them about. I remember him telling me he’d chosen this place because they had the best waffles or something he’d ever tasted. I came to realize this was where he’d waited for me while I was dancing. The fact of the matter is, I remember nothing about what I ate that night. All I remember is Dad.

My discomfort and embarrassment, in this strange place I felt we didn’t belong, was replaced with awe as I watched Dad interact with the simple, down-to-earth folks in this out of the way diner in the middle of the night.

As I watched Dad easily converse with people I had a hard time understanding, I saw what I later realized was a living example of Jesus. He sat among “the least of these”, treating them with dignity, respect and not the least bit of condescension. He fed them, both before bringing me in and during… giving of himself in a way my teenage brain could barely comprehend.

You changed my life that day, Dad. It was some years before the seed planted that night grew… but it’s been the most powerful example of the Love of Jesus I’ve ever seen. In one night I saw the most powerful living example of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (I’m sure you needed it with me) that I’ve seen then or since.

Thank you for who you are… in your family, in the church, in the community and in every life you have and will continue to touch.

I love you.


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