He meant the world to me, this dear sweet father of mine. So much so, that when I dream about him, I wake up in tears. Those dreams always feel like a visit that’s been cruelly cut short. Even after 33 years, I still miss him a lot.
Dad was born in 1903, before automobiles were prominent, and the same year the Wright brothers invented flight! He also had five names – August Frank Lauren Baldwin Joseph. I never did ask him why he was blessed with all of those monikers. He condensed his name to August Frank, and this was shortened to Gus by those who knew him well.
Dad was 53 when I was born. I was his shadow. When the poor man tried to nap, I would snuggle in between him and the couch back. He called me “wiggle sock” and always with affection and patience in his voice. I in turn nicknamed him “Auggie Doggie Daddy” in part after the cartoon character of the times, Auggy Doggy.
When I got a little older, I realized for the first time that Dad was abnormally older than me. Neighborhood kids would say, “Hey, Andrea, there’s your grandpa.” It hurt. This was my daddy. I didn’t even have a grandfather. One had died long before I was born, the other passed away when I was three, and I only had a vague memory of him.
Around this same time, I began to be afraid for Dad. He was a heavy smoker, and when I was eleven, he was quite sick. My mother hinted at worry that he might not make it. But thankfully, Dad pulled through. I was extremely relieved, but from then on I knew he was vulnerable, that I too was vulnerable, and that I could lose him at any time. It scared me.
But five years later it was my mother whom I lost first. Dad at age 69 was suddenly alone with a 16 year old. The age gap felt huge those first lonely days we began forging ahead in a world without mom. But our love of sports brought us close. I also felt a fierce loyalty to him. While I did go out with friends, I was always mindful that he was home alone. Boyfriends were rare, mostly because of my reluctance to become involved in a relationship that would have to take a backseat to my older dad. I think I was a little embarrassed at the whole situation. This wasn’t normal. Most teens got to live out their young years with freedom and little worry about major stresses in life. My biggest worry and fear was losing this man. Yet I knew the odds were against him as he was living with both emphysema and congestive heart failure. My only two siblings were a lot older than me and had their own lives with husbands and kids. They also lived in other states, one 800 miles away, the other about 2200. I envied them. To this day, I don’t think they realize how hard it was to be a teenager alone with a man who became increasingly frail.
Aside from his illnesses, however, Dad and I had a strong bond we built over that five year stretch in which life had thrust us alone together. His stories of young manhood, family, and the memories he had were enjoyable to hear. I shockingly learned that he had been engaged to another woman before mom, but it hadn’t worked out. Luckily. I loved my Auggie Doggie Daddy with all my heart.
I think of him often, and never forget him on Father’s Day. We might have had a huge age gap. Perhaps our father-daughter relationship didn’t resemble that of other kids my age nor even of my two sisters before me, but it was special.
So, here’s to you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day!