Happy Father's Day
to anyone who ever
kept something alive
There he is. My father, Thomas Joseph James McCarthy.
Surrounded by his four children, after a profound game of SHARK in which he would dive under the water with one hand just above the surface and chase us, shrieking, hearts racing, arms and legs a blur of motion towards the sides of the pool that we never somehow reached before he captured us in his big bear arms.
You know, like a shark would, if a shark were in the motel pool on Saturday morning in the wilds of Waukeshau, Wisconsin after a Friday night where you woke up raring and ready to go after a long and decadent night at the all-you-can-eat fried chicken place. The waiters are still probably shaking their heads about how much those McCarthy children could tuck in!
My father could tell you a story if he got in the mood. He wasn’t always in the mood though. He was of the generation where if you needed money, you got a second job. He worked days, then he came home and took a nap, then he worked nights, and came home and took a nap, then worked days again.
I, who as you may recall, eschewed my own bed on a nightly basis in favor of my parent’s bed, was inwardly thrilled when he would start a new night job, happily sleeping on his side of the bed until he came home sometime before 6:00 am as the birds were singing. I’d give him a big hug and relinquish his side of the bed to him then.
My dad grew up with his father, a Chicago fireman legendary for his culinary skill at his firehouses, and his brother Jack. His mother Mary Hartigan, she of the bright red hair and brilliant smile, was the light of their lives until her passing when my Dad was six. She was preceded in death by her third son, my father’s youngest brother Michael, who passed away when my Dad was four.
If my mom gets your ear, she’ll tell you that all she and my dad wanted was to create the big loving family neither of them had growing up. Most anyone who saw them together, though, will tell you that all my Dad really wanted was to make my Mom happy, and she wanted as many kids as possible. He loved her, it was what she wanted, and that was that.
She brought us into the world, and he did what it took to keep us in it.
In addition to working multiple jobs, here is an incomplete list of the things he did to keep us alive: he refused to drop us off at houses for parties if he couldn’t see the people in the windows. No matter where he was or what he was doing, he would drive to downtown Chicago or really anywhere to pick us up when our cars stopped working. With a rare bonus from work, he divided the basement into two extremely small bedrooms so my little sister and I could have separate bedrooms and ensure that both of us graduated from high school rather than the penitentiary for killing each other. He could cook a perfect steak but preferred a good hamburger, and always took his portion after the rest of the family was served.
One time, I needed a ride home from college. I got my two lovable friends Mark and Brendan to drive me up, bribing them with the promise of having my Dad sing “I’m A Little Teapot” for them.
We arrived at the house to a Sunday night feast from my mom, and at the end of the meal, my friends were ready to hear my dad sing the song. To say my Dad proceeded reluctantly is an understatement, but proceed he did, with the hand gestures and dance movements that were apparently never meant to be seen by anyone but close family members around midnight campfires, to my friend’s great delight. “You owe me, Jenny,” was all he said. And though I tried his patience in many ways throughout our lives, he never made me pay.
This Father’s Day, I am grateful to the Dad I got to have. And if you are a person who has ever kept anything alive, you deserve to be celebrated too. Today and everyday.
Here's a song I wrote about my Dad: Sugar Candy. I hope you enjoy it.
You'll find more stories like these at my Creativity and Collaboration blog at jennybienemann.com, and sign up for the Sunday Haiku Milieu Email at haikumilieu.com.