Sunday is my Dad’s birthday. I have my birthday card to him sitting right beside me. I remember picking out the perfect card, along with some cute little cat stickers to affix to the envelope. I also remember telling myself “Oh, I have at least two weeks before I need to send this out!” Anyone want to tell me exactly where the two weeks went?!
So, in light of my forgetfulness that I will blame on my kids, school, and setbacks, I wanted to write about my dad. A virtual birthday card perhaps?
Tonight my parents had to take my brother to the airport for yet another goodbye. Anthony, my brother, just got home from an eight-month deployment where there was very limited communication.
Upon his homecoming, he was able to spend a nice long week with my parents, before heading back to his base in San Diego. Tonight, at the Ortolano household, things are, melancholy perhaps? We are all such a close-knit family, these goodbyes do not come easily, especially to my Dad.
And then you have Me, never one to hold my emotions in, good or bad, would be a sobbing mess. No matter the age. I would cry at the airport, I would cry in the car to the airport, I would cry after the damn plane takes off. Dad, he was the more stoic one, or so we thought.
It would be years later when he would say goodbye to us kids in the grey cloudy skies of Seattle while wearing sunglasses, that everything fit together. The sunglasses! They were a ruse! The making of tears was happening behind the dark sunglasses. Tears of sadness for having to say good-bye, coupled with tears of gratefulness that we were able to spend this time together. It just took us kids, an exceptionally long time to figure the whole sunglasses thing out.
My Dad is one of if not the greatest person I know. For those of you that know him, you will agree with me (well, most of you anyway.) For those of you that do not know him, you should, you will not regret it. Funny, educated, caring, empathetic, giving, animal lover, believer, with a dash of stubborness are a few adjectives that describe him.
One of my favorite yet comical “Dad” stories take us back, oh, about, well, let’s just say it takes us back to the late 80’s. It is a Sunday morning. We all pile in the car ready to make the twenty-five-minute drive to church. Us kids are sitting comfortably in the backseat. I am directly behind Dad who is driving, Anthony is in the middle, and Carolyn is on the right. We are driving, talking about where we wanted to go eat after church. “Bennigan’s” it is!
I remember I had a crush on a boy at church. The only thing I cared about at this point was wondering if he would be there or not. Dad was fiddling around with his new Bob Dylan cassette that just came out. If memory serves me correctly, it was in that car that Dad took off the shiny plastic wrapper of the new cassette, excitedly pushing it into the tape deck waiting for it to play.
At this time Dad and I struggled with music. He did not like mine (Skid Row!) I did not like his (The Rolling Stones) Dad, being a huge fan of Dylan was excited to listen to the new cassette while trying to convert me to be a fan. Well, something went wrong. The cassette was not playing. As soon as he put it in, nothing. He would try to fast forward, nothing other than muffled noises. This went on for a good two miles. I believe at this point all of us were praying “Dear God please make this cassette play.” It never did. Dad, still driving, “calmly” took the cassette, rolled down his window, and as the car exited the ramp off the highway through the tape outside, while perhaps muttering something about a “piece of crap tape.” I remember this because as soon as he rolled his window down, I was worried my hair would mess up from the wind. I looked out my window, while shielding my 80’s style big hair, and saw good ol Bob Dylan safely hit the grassy area of the exit ramp, never to be heard from again. Silence took over the car. Dad, still driving, claps his hands once, put on a smile and asked: “So, we are we going to eat after church?”
“Wherever you want Daddy!”
A few months after “The Car Incident” found Dad and me in the kitchen late one night. It was a Wednesday night. We had just gotten home from church. Everyone else was getting ready for bed. Not Dad and I. You see, the new Motley Crue album had just come out. (This is the point where Dad is now rolling his eyes while reading this because I KNOW he remembers this one!) I earned enough allowance to buy their “Dr. Feelgood” album. I was so excited to come home and continue to listen to the title track on repeat. Let the record show, this was a very important album for the guys that made up Motley Crue. It was their first album they recorded sober.
While Dad was making a sandwich, I pushed “play” on the boombox that sat on top of the refridgerator. “Just listen it is SO good!” I was hoping that Dad would stop making his sandwich and loudly proclaim “Jen, you are right, I should have listened to you a long time ago, where have I been?!”
Hmmm. Dad was not impressed.
“Are you kidding me, Jen, this is not music! You cannot even hear what they are saying. You want good music, I will give you good music The Stones, Dylan, The Dead, Sinatra, Cash, THAT is good music. Come to me in twenty years and let’s see where they are at!”
Oh, it was on! I believe Dad and I argued about whether or not “Motley Crue would still be around in twenty years” for an hour straight. Eventually, sleep got the best of us and we called a truce. However, let the record show, that twenty years later, yes, Motley Crue was still around, Yes, Dad became a fan, and even though it took me a little longer, I became a fan of The Rolling Stones, who quite frankly, will outlive us all.
Oh, I miss those debates. Now a days we have the same taste in music, and collectively agree that the crap played nowadays is anything but music! Grandchildren, take note!!
I could go on and on about music, specifically music with Dad.
Okay, one more, and I do not think even Dad will remember this one. AJ was about three years old. I remmebr I taught AJ the words to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia.” Little AJ would be running around my tiny one bedroom apartment singing:
Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart
You’re shaking my confidence daily
Oh, Cecilia, I’m down on my knees
I’m begging you please to come home
It was freakin adorable, although probably not the best of lyrics to teach to a toddler. Dad called one day, and low and behold Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecelia” was playing in the background, with little AJ on accompaying vocals. Dad was impressed, as he should be, I learned from the best.
These small snippets of memories I am sharing are only a speck of the kind of person my dad is. But, these memories are mine. I do not have to compete with any of my siblings, because they have their own memories, which is usually how it works. Then, there are memories, huge memories that all of us siblings share together.
Anytime we are driving, or eating at a resturant, if Dad sees a homeless person on the side of the road, holding a sign that says “Hungry” Dad will stop whatever it is he is doing (driving or eating) and go give the person money. I remember a few times where Dad left the table before we even ordered. “I will be right back” just to make the treck outside, cross the street to the busy intersection, and give. He would come back to the table “I cannot enjoy my meal seeing someone else is hungry.”
We all had an amazing childhood filled with the magic of Santa Claus, Easter Bunny footprints, half eaten carrots, homemade Halloween costumes, circus, ice capades, the beach, salt water taffy, chruch, and pets. Sometimes I wonder why it is that I am so messed up? I shouldn’t be. I had a wonderful childhood all the way around. When I let my insecurities get the best of me, I feel like I could have been a better daughter. They desrve a better daughter. I am at the age where I should be helping my parents out. I am at the age where, for my dad’s birthday, instead of writing a blog post about memories, I should be able to afford to send a pretty kick ass gift, and with my dad, it would be a gift certificate to get yet another tattoo.
I am not at the place. Sometimes I wonder if I ever will be.
Last weeked my Dad and I had a text exchange that went a little something like this.
Dad~ We are sending you money for the car.
Me~ No thank you!
Dad~ We are sending it.
Me~ NO THANK YOU!
Dad~ We want to!
Me~ No thank you, I can fix it.
Dad~ We are sending it!
Five days later I had a check in the mail because clearly he does not listen.
My Dad has struggled just like us all. He has his own demons that he fights, we all do. Some of his demons I am privy to, some I am not. I take comfort in the fact that everyone, even the good ones, we all strugle trying to find our way. Hoping that we can do some sort of good despite our demons. My dad, he is one of the good ones.
So Dad, if you made it this far in the post. Thank you. Thank you for everything. Thank you for loving me in times when it may not have been so easy to. Thank you for seeing the best in me when I could not see it in myself, thank you for unwavering support.
I hope you have a great birthday, and one day, I hope to be celebrating your birthday with you, sitting on your deck under the humid Texas sun, watching Owen in the backyard, sharing a drink while listening to Johnny Cash’s “September When it Comes”