It’s Sunday, and it’s autumn—which means Seahawks football at the Knitingale house. And it was a hell of a game, played right down to the wire and won in an impossible, last minute save by the magic foot of Josh Brown. But there was a bittersweetness to it for me. It’s about my dad.
My dad is actually my adoptive dad but, with that, he is also the only dad I’ve ever known, and the only person worthy of the title in my world. We met him when I was about 9 or 10, although I didn’t really get to know him for another 15 years. He is a quiet man, a man gifted with his hands who can find the furniture hidden in wood and the buildings aching to be released from steel. He was in his 30s, I believe, younger than I am now, and he had never had a little girl. He has both sisters and brothers, but he is the youngest; I was definitely an enigma to him. Truth to tell, I had issues of my own and I was probably an enigma to everyone. I thought myself unlovable and didn’t entertain the possibility that I might be wrong. So I felt awkward with him. I don’t doubt he felt awkward with me, as well. We were like strangers at a dance, circling warily, trying not to miss the steps or the rhythm and mostly looking at our own feet when we should have been looking at each other, even if it meant falling down.
Dad loved—loves—football. Loves it to death. He works insane hours all week and, for as long as I can remember, likes to spend weekends watching football or basketball. We sometimes shot hoops together, but I was not a coordinated child and honestly, I still wasn’t sure how to be with him. Moreover, I was young, and with the self-centeredness of youth, I couldn’t see further than my own difficulties and my own path. On the weekends, my mother expressed exasperation at my dad’s football habit. She saw it as a waste of time, dull, and she hated how it seemed to take him away from her. And, to my everlasting regret, my desire to be like her, to BE her, caused me to ape that attitude. I decried football as “a bunch of men in tight pants falling down” and I never tried one time to sit with my dad and watch it.
This is what I mean about that cost, that price. I wish I had taken even one Sunday to ask my dad if he would teach me about football, and I wish I had sat down on the couch with him and watched the game and let him explain the rules to me. I wish I had been with him even one time, jumping up and down when the team scored or yelling at the ref when the calls went the wrong way. I might not have taken to football then, but I might have. And, even if I hadn’t, I’d be remembering that time with him now. Today, when I shouted at the quarterback for wasting their last time-out right by calling it right after the opposing team made a false start, I wish I’d been reminded of yelling at the tv with my dad. Once you’re down the road, you don’t get to retrace your steps.
Don’t get me wrong. My dad is still alive and he lives about 4 hours away, and we see each other and we get along fine. Sometimes I call him and talk about the game and he shakes his head in disbelief and says he never thought in a million years we’d ever have a conversation about football. And I wish that wasn’t true. I know you’re thinking that it’s “never too late”, but I think it both is and isn’t. It’s not too late to form bonds, to fatten up a relationship with more connections and to build new memories. But it’s too late to have THAT memory. It’s too late to remember being a teenager with my dad. In truth, I rarely spent much time with him at all when I was a teen. I remember squabbling endlessly with my mom, and I remember my poor dad, helpless in the middle. But I don’t remember much about him as a person, and I’m ashamed of that.
I’m not trying to get anyone to say that I was or am a good enough daughter. I’m the kind of daughter I am, and he’s the kind of dad he is, and neither one of us is perfect at it. But I wish I’d recognized how much he loved me, and I wish I’d taken the time to realize sooner how much I loved him. I wish I could say that my dad taught me all about it and that we almost never missed a Sunday afternoon football game.
My mother and I have issues--in the same way the Titanic had a few leaks, if the truth be known--but her health is failing her now and every time I go over to see them, my visit is consumed by her needs. My dad is a gentle and patient soul who will never complain about this, even if he only gets a few stolen moments of my time. I sometimes wish that wasn’t true, that he would demand that I come watch football with him, but that isn’t who he is. He takes what he can get and I give him what I can give him and we both know it’s not enough—it’s never enough—but it’s what we have. Sometimes we have quick, whispered conversations while my mother sleeps and we make it be enough. Always, my dad pets my head and hugs me tight and I feel in his touch that he treasures our stolen time as much as I do. He’s a man of few words, but I know. We both know.
I don’t know if those afternoons of football would make now any easier. That’s the hell of it—I’ll never know. When you’re a teenager, you don’t know how valuable some things are, and you give them away as readily as you’d hand over loose change or an extra pencil. He was there pretty much every single day and while he didn’t always know what to say, he loved me utterly. I don’t understand how he got to be 62, and I don’t understand how so much of our lives together have compressed into what seems like seconds and I can’t get anything back and it was just a lousy game of football and I swear to God—if I could go back, I’d watch football with him every Sunday and I’d jump up and down and yell and do all the uncool, un-girly things that I couldn’t bring myself to do. But there it is, isn’t it? Once you go down the road, regardless of what you paid, you never get to go back.