I spent the bulk of my childhood in Central Florida. And for most of my formative years, I sat in my dad’s teal 1994 Dodge Neon. I guess there was a time the air conditioning in that car worked, but I honestly don’t remember those days, yet I can still feel the way my clothes used to stick to me on those muggy summer drives. My hair was frizzy, my back was drenched in sweat, and my cheeks were red, but I didn’t mind all that much. I was riding beside my favorite person in the world: my father.
My dad drove that crazy car for ten years. And during those ten years, a lot happened: my parents divorced, we got our first home computer, we survived the Y2K scare, a lot of crazy accidents, I grappled with how to address bullies at school, tried to understand my mom’s decision to remarry, my grandfather got sick, and then my mom told me she was moving to North Carolina. She pleaded me to go—she said my siblings needed me and, most of all, she needed me.
I felt pressured and confused. I wanted to please everyone at once, but I certainly was not on board for leaving my dad. I will never forget the day I saw him before I moved. It was the first time I had ever seen my dad cry. I felt responsible for it. I stood there equally heartbroken, pushing my toes against the edge of my shoes, searching for a way in my head to make everyone happy. It was impossible.
The years that followed were bleak. I quickly realized my mom did need me, but not in the way I had hoped. She viewed me as the third adult in the house. She often ran away for hours, sometimes weeks at a time, leaving me to look after my siblings. And the bullying only got worse as I reached middle school. But I had one thing to look forward to each day: an hour phone call with my dad.
He worked hard to remember the names of all my new friends (even though he was 600 or so miles away and had never actually met them), and he made it clear each day that he had dedicated that whole hour to me. Only me.
He tuned in to all my aspirations as a socially awkward teenager. He surprised me even from a distance when he researched and paid for acting classes at my local community theatre, sent me CDs that deeply influenced my love for music, like Ryan Adams’ “Heartbreaker”, and he even went so far as to print out all the screenplays from my favorite films after he heard me mention an interest in screenwriting.
I still have that huge, black binder. I find myself eyeing it whenever I need a solid reminder of the love I deserve, especially from men. And that’s the most beautiful part of having such an amazing father: he taught me what real love looks like. It’s selfless, vibrant, and stable.
And as I edge closer to thirty, I realize how picky I have always been when it came to romance. Sure, I guess it is weird that I have only kissed four guys and I am nearly twenty-seven, and yeah, I have only had one serious boyfriend, who is now my fiancé, but I think that just shows that I have always known what I wanted: someone like my crazy, hilarious, incredibly intelligent, and loving father.
So thank you, Dad. Thank you for chasing me around with your guitar every once in a while just to make me laugh so hard I nearly peed my pants. Thank you for teaching me the importance of trying new things. Thank you for those big bear hugs when I am shaky and unsure. Thank you for being a pro at surprises, and thank you for being the most dependable person in my life.
I will always be your goofy little weirdo and you will always be my favorite person in the ever-expanding universe. I love you.