At this time of year, the word Dad typically conjures up portraits of fathers grilling, doing rugged work in the yard or power tooling in the garage. But I can define my Dad's character and my bond with him, by more meaningful imagery; a screwdriver, a typewriter and a map.
When I was a young girl growing up in a borough of New York, I was afraid of many things. I often had nightmares about subway muggers, home burglars and potential predators lurking the city streets. Perhaps it was because I watched too many network television news programs. But it was something I did with Dad before dinner. We sat on the couch, watched the city headlines and discussed how to practice safety. I was taking the train to junior high school at twelve years old, so I listened intently.
"Don't make eye contact with strangers. Always look as if you know exactly where you are going. Travel in groups," said Dad.
At night, I watched him close and lock all the windows and doors of our apartment. He further secured my bedroom window with a screwdriver. He placed a door jammer under the front and back doors. It was not so unusual given the break-in our next door neighbors experienced and the fact that our family car had been stolen right in front of our place. I have carried Dad's safety warnings with me throughout my college years on and off campus, into my twenties as a single working female commuting back and forth over the East River and throughout my thirties as a Mom with little ones to protect.
Dad inspired me during my elementary school years to learn how to type, to do it well and to use this skill as a way to make a steady income. He worked in government positions using data entry skills and ultimately honed a career in accounting. I remember typing my poems, stories and college entrance essay on an IBM PC Junior computer. We could barely afford it, but I remember him insisting that it was a good investment in our future. Typing ensured a non-stop flow of college summer temp jobs and eventually paved a way for me in the fields of advertising, marketing and communications. To this day I appreciate having the ability to type as fast as my thoughts flow. I am encouraged by Dad's support of my writing and the occasional comment he bravely posts on my blogs.
Ironically, it was my Mom, not my Dad, who encouraged me to learn how to drive in my teens. Of course my father worried about my safety behind the wheel so he wanted no part in my driving education. But I knew I would not always have access to public transportation so I felt it was my American right to pursue a driver's license. I surprised him.
"Guess what, Dad. I have my driver's license," I said.
"You what? That's not possible," he said.
Although my Mom had a driver's license, he was the designated family driver. It was his role. He was not accustomed to seeing women drive (well).
"Sorry, but it's a done deal," I replied.
I felt bad that I betrayed his wishes at the time, but knew in my heart it was the right thing for my future. Although he must have been very upset that I did this at the time, he did not fight it. Instead, he began to research the best makes of vehicles; their safety record, efficiency and performance ratings. He believed in Honda as a reliable car brand. After two years of dragging luggage through bus and subway terminals and perusing carpool ride on-campus boards, I was thrilled that Dad had helped me get a car loan for a new Honda Accord hatchback. It served me well for the next ten years.
I remember Dad ordering road maps from AAA for me. He marked the routes with a bright yellow highlighter. I had spent many years as the family road trip navigator on long car rides. He taught me how to read a road map and how to visualize the north, south, east or west bound exit off ramps.
"As long as you have and can find your location on a map, you will never be lost," Dad said.
To this day, I prefer reading and marking up road maps rather than relying on an electronic navigator. As a result, I never feel anxiety when driving someplace new. If I miss an exit, I pull over, refer to my map and happily turn around.
Happy Father's Day, Dad. Thanks for all your guidance to date. I still hear your safety warnings and advice, every step I take.