When we were growing up in Dubai, scorching temperatures and choking humidity mandated summer pilgrimages back to the United States (where New Orleans temperatures were only slightly cooler by comparison–but mitigated by nectar cream snowballs). My father would stay behind for most of the summer, steadily earning the paycheck that permitted these reunions with our grandparents and subsisting on canned StarKist and Ritz crackers in our absence. Han and Luke and Leia were his most reliable compatriots: that trilogy of VHS tapes was surely worn to shreds by the mid-90s.
As a child, I was largely unattuned to this sacrifice. I wish my parents had talked about it more. I knew that I missed him, that he missed us, but I wonder what an open dialogue about his gift and our gain would have sounded like and how my immature expressions of appreciation would have changed.
Today, I am aware that my father silently bore this hardship precisely because it was a gift and not a burden. He slept on tiny, rollicking bunk beds on stormy offshore platforms and dined on canned nonperishables because he had and has the gift of a discerning long game. Ever the endearing physics geek, Dad likes to talk in metaphor–and his diplomatically secular appeal to Something Greater during periods of pain or uncertainty is, “Be patient. The vectors will align.” When I am disheartened by my poor health or seemingly endless unemployment or unexpected auto repair hemorrhages, I do three things: (1) read the news and count my embarrassingly countless blessings, (2) Google “hugging animal gifs”, and (3) channel my father and envision my problem as a free-body diagram.
What? You were writing French vocabulary notecards during Physics, too? Bien sûr. A vector quantity is fully described by both magnitude and direction. If I tell my toddler that there’s a snack cup brimming with fully-limbed animal crackers 20 steps from the playground swing set, I’ve just bought myself ten minutes of alone time. But if I tell Simon that those crackers are displaced 20 steps from the middle swing 30 degrees to the west of north, my little Nobel laureate will be covered in crumbs and clamoring for more kitty cats before I can refresh my email. (…or he’ll just silently start eating sand.)
Pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted or thought I wanted in life has been satisfied or tested by these annoyingly complementary forces. Today I’m craving pumpkin pie, but the rationale for my envie is inappropriate (honestly, the Mariah Carey fan in me just wants an excuse to play holiday music) and my timing is way off (’tis the season for mangoes, according to the Trader Joe’s Frequent Flyer). Likewise, the goals I’ve set, the men I’ve dated, the happinesses I’ve assumed my just desserts…none were right and the timing was all wrong–until they were and it suddenly wasn’t.
My dad knows this as deeply as his faith, as intuitively as his recipe for pesto-crusted salmon. In 51 days, he will celebrate one year of sobriety. Every written expression of the joy I feel for and with my father is a colossal understatement. And though I admittedly walked part of this long and sometimes painful journey with him, every effort I make to understand its timeliness falls leagues short. I’m left to simply feel grateful that my dad decided to Live and certain that, somewhere, my mother’s heart is full and her fridge is stocked with celebratory seltzer.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. Your vectors aligned. I trust and am always inspired by your loving faith that mine will, too.