'Ohhhhh, my leetle geeeeeel!"
No, you may not understand that comment. I do, though. It makes me laugh. You see, my father, the big, ominous "tough guy", always has been the best baby talker around. Let me translate. "Oh, my little girl!" By dropping certain consonants, elongating the vowel sounds, elevating his voice to a high, precious pitch... Daddy used to make me laugh!
Father's Day has come and, since I offered up my creativity to sing the praises of my Mother in early May, I really ought to do the same for my dad now. So let's see if I can sum up my love for my father in this short space.
Dad wanted a boy. Oh, he may deny it now, but as an extremely talented athlete in high school, he hoped desperately that he'd be able to share his love of sports and all things sweaty and grass-stained with a son. But Mom gave him me instead. The way they tell the story, the doctor handed me, all slimy and squirmy and female, to a 25-year-old Mark Pancoast... and the man fell in love.
I was his "leetle geel", his "jaybird", his "munchy minchin" and a thousand other equally and inanely sweet nicknames. At the age of three I beat him at Candy Land (now he swears he let me win, but we all know the truth... I am the master), and I received a trophy for my efforts. It was one of his old baseball trophies. We both beamed with pride. He bought a book that came highly recommended for teaching children to read, and he sat me down one afternoon to begin learning. By the end of the night, I could do it! Magic? Good parenting? Pure Audrey genius? A little bit of all.
On the playground I was living up to my potential, too. Daddy had hoped and prayed for an athlete, and God had granted him one. I picked up sports quickly, even as he drilled. He'd take us kids out to "play baseball" in the nearby field. That meant a little bit of batting for each of us, and then one monstrous "at bat" for Dad while his litter spread out to shag the balls he sent for miles in every direction. We all won.
And he took me on my first date. I don't remember it as vividly as I used to, but there is a picture of the night that helps me. I was five-years-old, I had on a little mint green dress and white tights and shoes, and I carried a little purse with a turtle on it. Dad put on a suit and tie for his "number one girl" and we were off to dinner. I think we went to the mall? Do you remember, Dad? We went on many special "dates" over the years. The best was to an old-fashioned ice cream counter for a malt. My friends were all very jealous of my time with my Dad. He worked nights and weekends, so he was the one driving me on field trips and spending time with my brothers and me after school. "Your dad is the coolest!" my friends used to rave. But I don't think I told him that; it might have gone to his head.
Things weren't always so perfect, though. Dad had forgotten, in his list of things for God to include in the design of his firstborn, to ask that I not turn out exactly like him. My temper and my stubbornness are all his, too. Fighting was interesting once I was old enough to know my own mind. Not only did I choose to believe and say the exact things that would make my dad the angriest living human, but I stuck to my guns just as hard as he stuck to his. Head butting over issues like my future career, capital punishment, communism, racism... every day occurrences.
Usually these episodes ended with the classic "go to your room!" We rarely reached a resolution peacefully the first time around. Sometimes I was called back downstairs and given a chance to change my mind, to repent. Hah! Now I wonder how much time I wasted arguing things I knew nothing about, how many times I was actually right, how many miles of stairs I walked after all the up and down and up agains.
Always, though, I thought my dad was probably one of the smartest people around. He was always reading, always talking about important things. He worked hard to put himself through college when we were little kids and he was still working full time. He treated my mother very well, always loving her aloud.
The best possible thing my dad did for us growing up was to take our family on great vacations! He was a teacher, so each summer he'd pack the boys and me and all our camping gear into the car. We'd drive all over, usually winding up in Yellowstone National Park. Along the way we developed a love for nature and her bounty. Dad kept us entertained with history and stories, everything he knew he shared. That made the trips twice as fun!
Now, here I have to stop and mention that the info he passed along wasn't always brand new. After a while he began repeating some things. The boys and I pretended not to notice. Maybe in the beginning we really didn't know. But then, as is the Pancoast way, we gave Daddy a hard time about it.
"Kids, do you know what formed that valley over there? Hundreds of years ag..."
And we'd overwhelm him with a chorused: "...ago huge glaciers carved out the valleys as they melted and froze over and over..." Poor dad, breeding such smart alecks.
I think I made him proud as an athlete in high school. I swam, played volleyball and basketball. After showing a lot of potential in all three sports I narrowed them down to my favorite, volleyball. Dad came to my basketball games during my freshman year. He cheered me on, up and down the court. Of course, it wasn't all cheering, per se. Some was criticism "Don't dribble so high, AJ!", some was advice "Keep your head up, babe!". Some was pure incredulity. "What are you doing??!!!" And my father, bless his heart, was born with a deep voice that resounds everywhere, especially in a gym. At the end of the game the big joke my coaches would pass along to me was, "I heard your dad was at the game tonight! Har har har har!"
As a deeply sensitive teenage girl, I desperately wanted the teasing to stop. And having to do the play-by-play with critique once I got home wasn't all that fun, either. So I asked my dad not to yell during my games. When he balked at this idea I, in a moment of what my dad would term "boneheadedness", gave my own father an ultimatum: If you have to scream at me, I don't want you at my games at all."
Well, I should have known how that would go. He didn't come to any more of my games. Finally, my senior year, he began showing up at my volleyball matches again. And boy, was he proud! Then, at the award ceremony at the end of the season, he was my date. I relished his booming cheers then, as I accepted my trophy for being the Most Valuable Player of 2001.
In high school I didn't make my parents worry much. I was a good kid who kept to her curfew, did most of my activities with the church and had nice friends. The night I graduated from high school, my dad gave me a charm for the charm bracelet he'd given me and had helped me build for years. It was a tiny silver acorn. I hadn't fallen far from the tree. Daddy was misty, but he let me go off to my parties and to the rest of my life.
Dad has been my compass, my teacher, my standard for men, my protector (I've always felt safe) and my friend. He's whetted my debating skills and helped to nurture my sense of humor. Giving me away in marriage was no easy task for Daddy. He always swore he wouldn't cry "if the day ever came". But he did, a little. And just as the song we danced to that night proclaimed, I find our relationship as father and daughter to be amazing and unforgettable.
A long time ago I was inspired by an Eavan Boland poem. I sat and wrote this about my father:
My father took my hand
and we soared up the steps
of a place of words and wisdom
bound into books,
row upon row of the written thoughts
of those much wiser than me.
Oh, how I thirsted for that wisdom.
I would leave the hold of my father
in his sage green coat,
and find my corner.
I would huddle there and search for
the meaning of life, the solutions to
so many mysteries.
I sought counsel.
And then I turned around
and turned around...
He was gone.
It took me a second to realize
I was old enough to make it
home on my own.
When I was young I studied words
and their definitions.
These led me to understand
much of what life is made of,
but something else brought to light
the meaning of irony.
I will always be reminded that I was
in those hallowed rooms of learning
with my father,
with my back turned towards him,
searching- oh irony!-
for wise things.
-Audrey Pancoast, 2003
We get along. We make each other laugh. A few days ago I received an email from my dad in which he told me that he had been watching Anne of Green Gables with his class, and that it made him miss "his Anne". Me. Aren't I a lucky girl? To have a father who believes I am smart and beautiful and successful, a father who has told me that since I was very young. Indeed.
Happy Fathers Day!