He was pushing his Craftsman drawer in and pulling it back out with all the force and frustration he could muster.
I watched as he took a totally different approach to a problem than I might have taken. It looked to me like a tool had angled itself in such a way as to make it so the drawer would not open. Kind of like the middle drawer of your dresser not closing because of the clothes popping up from underneath. Just calmly move those clothes out of the way. Or in this case, the tool.
But heaven forbid a young woman offer a rational suggestion to a logical man twice her age and wisdom. I said nothing.
In the middle of his violent “solution,” he looked up at me, red-faced and angry. “Don’t have kids. They’ll ruin everything you own.”
At some point he took a deep enough breath to calm down and figure out that that was, indeed, what was going on: a tool was in the way. He finally got the drawer open.
I stood there, watching him realize how horribly he had dealt with the situation. My arms were dropped at my sides. I felt completely numb in bewilderment of what my father had just said to me, his firstborn.
A few days before this event, I had asked him for some of his favorite fatherhood memories. He took a moment to consider, looking up at the ceiling while lying on his bed. It was a sunny California day in February. The waterfall in the backyard was audible, and the situation was relaxing enough to invite a positive response. I thought.
He said, “Gosh, I don’t know. All I can think of is stressful times.” He went on to say that he was just always paranoid that something was wrong, always worried for our safety. We kids were a huge burden—a chore. Dad managed to utter something about “all of the times in the spa.” Good! There was a positive memory.
“…But even then, I was worried about you guys drowning.”
I thought of all the times we had run to greet him in the driveway when he got home. I remembered taking off his shoes. I recalled moments on my parents’ bed where my brother and I scratched his back. My favorite moments were after my bath when I’d run to the family room, and Dad would take the towel and dry my wet hair with a playful forcefulness that made me giggle. Or the time where we went to a daddy-daughter dance for Girl Scouts. Fishing.
I tried to remind him of some of these things, maybe to get his memory going. Maybe in that moment, all he could think about was all of the bad stuff. He smiled at my reminders, and followed up shortly with, “But you guys barely ever took off my shoes for me.”
In the moment when he told me never to have kids, I understood what fatherhood was to him.
It was something that robbed him of his rock star dreams. Fatherhood made him do a job he didn’t want in order to fulfill a duty he never asked for. It required sacrificing his hobbies and artistic abilities. It was looking out for the safety of little humans who didn’t have a sense of… well… anything.
Never in my 24 years (18 of them at home) had I wondered if my dad loved me. He was always sure to tell us. We were always provided for. We were always hugged and kissed and spoiled. I could see his love for his children, especially the youngest, in his face as he tried to hold back a smile that just couldn’t be contained.
But I understood his conflict. I understood that even though he loved us, he may have wanted his life to be different. He may have been able to find more joy if he had gone in another direction.
Once he had gotten the tools that he needed, he got up and left. I sat down in the chair and started opening his Craftsman drawers one at a time. With tears streaming down my face, I organized them in the way that made the most sense to me, a young woman of half his age and wisdom.
I hoped that one small act, where I carefully handled all of his things, might bring him some small amount of satisfaction. I sought to make him remember that kids didn’t just ruin everything.
We could fix things, too.