One week in my writing group, our facilitator gave us a prompt to make a list of… anything. That might seem mundane, but you’d be surprised how quickly a list can produce a specific item — something from your childhood kitchen, something from your first job, something from the first place you called home that wasn’t the home you grew up in — can spark a paragraph, or two, or a full essay.
I’m not going to share a whole essay with you today. But I am going to share a list. The list I’m going to share is a list of everything I remember about my dad.
My dad is alive, but despite the fact that he still lives in the town where I grew up, I haven’t seen him since I was 16 years old.
My parents divorced before I was a year old; I don’t ever remember him living with us. I had weekend visitations at his house when I was growing up, but between my half-brothers, dad’s weekend shifts, and my teenage desire to spend time only with anyone non-parental, I stopped going on regular visitations when I started middle school.
I don’t know how the conversation went down. I don’t know if he fought to keep his visits with me, if he didn’t even try, or if he just didn’t know how.
So here is the list of things I remember about my dad:
He had red hair.
He had to keep his face clean-shaven for work, but on weekends or holidays, his face would be stubbled. I’d sit on his lap, and my dad would rub his stubbly cheek against my child-smooth one.
When he wasn’t working, he would wear jeans and a t-shirt, or if the weather warranted, a flannel shirt. When he was working, he would be in his full WPD uniform.
I learned quickly that when my older brothers would tease, tickle, or otherwise harass me, all I had to do was squeal. Wherever my dad was in the house, he would holler, “Whatever you’re doing to make your sister squeal, stop.” When you’re the youngest in the house, you do what you can to survive.
I spent Friday nights through Sunday mornings at my dad’s. I recall often having pancakes for breakfast on Saturday mornings, something to which I always looked forward. Sometimes, in the wintertime, the pancakes would be in the shape of a snowman.
My dad, his brother, his dad, and eventually, my oldest brother, each were in the navy. I don’t know where my dad was stationed, nor if he saw any action or not.
I found out that Santa Claus wasn’t real when I was seven, thanks to my dad. He had left the box to one of my brother’s Christmas gifts in the basement, and I saw it. Oddly, maybe, I was mad at my mom for lying to me about Santa, not my dad for spoiling it.
My dad liked to eat peanut butter, pickle, and mayonnaise sandwiches, and whole sardines, straight from the tin. Both of these things still make my stomach turn.
When I was young, my dad was a motorcycle cop. Wichita has since folded its motorcycle unit.
I remember sledding down the big, bowl-shaped hill in front of the Mid-America All Indian Center on Seneca and Central.
My first bicycle: a garage-sale find, pink, with a white, flowered banana seat.
My dad had horses. He started with a red Quarter horse, named Ben. One of his colleagues and friends had a big Appaloosa, named Whistler.
Along with his friend, Terry, Dad started the Wichita PD’s Mounted Patrol, which is still in existence today.
Going to Scott City, Kansas, to visit one of my dad’s sisters, my Aunt Danni, and her family. I was 7 or 8, and us kids rode in the bed of the truck, under the topper — remember when it was legal to do that?
Going somewhere in Oklahoma to visit family. We went to the county fair while we were there. That was the first time I remember being conscious of the red, iron-filled dirt. We used hot-pink nail polish to mark the shell of the box turtle we had caught to put in the turtle race. My turtle did not win, but that was one of the first and only times I ever felt something vaguely akin to the spark of competitiveness.
Going to Littleton, Colorado, to visit my dad’s adopted sister, Aunt Randy, her husband, Uncle Keith, and their family. My aunt and uncle are Japanese. I remember eating Japanese-style breakfast of rice, fish, and some green seasoning sprinkled over the top, all with chopsticks, and feeling very exotic about that.
Stopping in Greeley, Colorado, to spend some time with my Uncle Rick and Aunt Karen. My uncle Rick was also a police officer. He was actually the chief in Greeley at that time.
Seeing live polar bears for the first time at the Denver zoo. It would be more than a decade before my local zoo featured polar bears.
Seeing and being in the mountains for the first time.
Getting altitude sick on that same trip.
The black, slobbery, yeti of a Newfoundland dog, Walter, that dad and his wife got for my younger brother.
My dad, and one of my older brothers and his girlfriend, came to see the Wichita Community Theater play I was in when I was a freshman in high school. That brother and that girlfriend got married, and are still married, with three children.
The last time that I saw my dad was when my mom dropped me off to spend the weekend with him when I was 16. She found out that I had been having sex with my boyfriend, and probably needed a moment. Or twelve. Maybe she thought he would say something to me about it, talk some sense into me. He didn’t. I don’t remember him saying much of anything to me at all that weekend.
Maybe this list seems odd to you. Maybe you had a dad who was somewhat or very involved in your life. Maybe your family is close-knit, and you can’t imagine just not seeing each other. Or maybe this is exactly what your family is like. Maybe you can relate all the way.
Either way, I want you to consider making your own list. It can be serious or it can be silly. Whichever way it goes, I bet you’ll be surprised by a memory — big or small — that’s been silently waiting for you to notice it.
Do you have a non-traditional family experience? How do you feel about that?
Did you make a list? What’s the most surprising item that made it on the list?