The day I was born, my father didn’t speak. He sang.
They wrapped me in a bundle and put me in his arms; the youngest, the first and only girl. There’s a faded picture of him cradling me, smiling, singing.
“I’ve got sunshine, on a cloudy day. When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May. I guess you’d say, what can make me feel this way? My girl, talkin’ ’bout, my girl…”
When I was four, before the 50’s diner shut down, my father would give me a dime to put in the jukebox, and tell me to play our song. I would sit on his lap and he would give me half his milkshake. We would sway under the neon lights and the fake car crashing through the wall until the Temptations sang their final note.
When I was fifteen, at a sock hop thrown by our church, I snuck up to the DJ.
“Play ‘My Girl’ for me?” I asked, “It’s for my father.”
He smiled at me from across the room when it played, knowing who was responsible.
At twenty two, he went through my phone records. I’d been living away from home for four years and paid for that phone. He knew he had no right. He found the international number of my British boyfriend, who he hated, and called him at 3am with a threat.
“Get out of my life!” I screamed. “I’m a full grown woman!”
My cat got sick that year, and was put in the animal hospital. I remember driving up to see him from college, and passing my father in the waiting room. We didn’t say a word to each other. I looked at him through hard eyes and walked into the back room.
We grew farther and farther apart. I left his faith. I didn’t know how to talk to him anymore. He told me that if he saw me running into a burning building, it was his job to rescue me. I told him that I didn’t share his beliefs, that I was an adult, and I should have the same freedoms as everyone else.
We had a series of horrible fights, culminating in me shouting at him, “I don’t believe in your god!” and storming out.
I went back to my place in Long Beach. We didn’t talk for a while.
I am twenty four when my mother is hospitalized. Only Dad and I come to visit her every day. I curl up with her in her hospital bed, wishing with every ounce in my body that my love could heal. I bring her chocolate milkshakes like the kind we used to get from the diner. When visiting hours are over my dad and I drive back to their house together. We don’t have the words to say anything, but in the car I hold his hand.
At twenty six, my world is shattered. I was going to be married, and now I have nothing at all. I gave up my home, my job, my car, and my life to move to Europe with my fiance, who has disappeared for a week. When I finally get a hold of him to confront all of his lies, it’s too late. I throw the ring across the room and cry.
“He wasn’t worthy of you.” My father tells me. “Come home, come heal.”
When I didn’t leave my room for a month and did nothing but eat cheese and beer, he said nothing. When I wandered the house in tears, he held me. When I asked him if anyone would ever love me again, he said, “You are the bravest soul to walk away when you had to. I know some who didn’t, and regretted it. Someone will know your spirit, and someone will love you more than he was capable of.”
When I got a job and an apartment to get back on my feet, he lent me his car and told me he would miss having me in the house.
When I was twenty nine, my father got sick. Truthfully, my father has been sick my entire life, and while his yearly hospitalizations have always made me nervous, over time I’ve learned to cope; it’s been happening for three decades. This time was different. He, along with my aunt and uncle, were throwing my Grandmother’s 95th birthday party. I was on a flight, waiting for him to pick me up at the airport when I got the message that he wasn’t coming. By the time they knew something was wrong, he was vomiting from the infection that had spread to his kidneys, and then to his blood.
“Can I see him? Please, let me see him.” I begged. I came from the airport as fast as I could. But they wouldn’t let me in.
They take him into surgery before I have a chance to see him or tell him I love him. I spend hours watching the little green tab on the screen above me, indicating that he is currently being operated on. As the tab next to his name turns blue I exhale all the breath I feel I’ve been holding for eternity. When they finally let me see him, I run to his bedside and cry. He is pale, and he is tired, but he is alive.
They won’t release him from the hospital for a week. He misses the party that he helped provide, the visits with all of the people who’ve flown in, the time with his mother, and I can’t stop the crying. I realize that this was his entire childhood, and most of his life. He’s taking it better than I am I think, because I’m realizing for the first time how many things have been taken away from him because he’s been sick. How many things he’s had to lose.
I insist that I won’t leave Florida until they release him from the hospital, but on my last day there, they let him go.
Two months later, I have a grip on a clumsy piece of sidewalk chalk, and am drawing a large square in the middle of my parents’ driveway. In the middle I write the words, “Dance Floor”. I put my ipod speaker on the ground and breathe. I don’t know why I’m nervous, but I’m nervous. I ask my mom to call out my dad, who is in jeans and a ripped up shirt, having been working in the tool shed.
Suddenly I feel incredibly foolish, but he’s here, and I’m standing all done up in a white sundress, and I have to say it.
“Dad, it’s our 30th Father’s Day. I realized it’s our 30th Father’s Day and I thought…” I stammer “I just know Dad, that the way things have gone, I might not ever get married. There might not ever be a wedding or a reason to do this. But this is our song, and this is our dance, and I’ll be damned if I let you… and this… pass me by because some guy I’ve never met hasn’t come along yet. We always knew this was our song. We always knew this was our dance… And I’m here, and you’re here, and you never know how long you get with anyone anyway…” My eyes fill with tears as I ramble at him, but I manage to force it out.
“I love you, and for our 30th Father’s Day I want to have this dance with you. Whether or not it ever happens anywhere else, it’s going to happen here.”
My mother hits a button and “My Girl” starts to play.
My father takes me in his arms, and dances with me.