Still the Same Man

When you can’t change the direction of the wind, adjust your sails.” H. Jackson Brown Jr.

He used to be larger-than-life to the little girl who worshiped him, boastful with pride if she had done anything remotely noteworthy in school, eerily calm and quiet in his reproachful voice when she’d misbehaved.

As a teenager she found his need to protect her overbearing and unnecessary. She was almost an adult. She knew what she wanted and needed. Why couldn’t he trust her? He bellowed with frustration.

He is smaller now, his voice a little over a whisper. He takes her arm whenever he feels unsteady. His steps are slower, more cautious. At times, he forgets who she is.

“As long as I work in this business,” one of my dad’s homecare workers said this week, “I’ll never forget your dad.”

My dad sat at the kitchen table, dosing off. He’d been waiting for her to come so he could take his last medication of the day and go to bed.

“I come here,” she went on, “to take care of him. When I leave at night, I tell him to turn off the lights, lock the door and go to bed, but he tells me he won’t do that until he sees me get into my car. It’s dark, he tells me. You’re a woman. You never know. He stands at the door and watches over me until I’m in my car.”

She rubbed his back and smiled. “I’ll never forget that. Your dad is a good man.”

“Yup,” I replied and recalled times he stood waiting at the window, every light in and outside the house on, while I sat in a car with a boy trying to ignore my father and not think of the questions he would ask as soon as I walked in the door.

That teenage girl has long outgrown her need to assert her independence. She is who she is—independent, opinionated, driven and strong willed—because of him. Now she worries where that man who raised her has gone.

And then she is reminded, by almost a perfect stranger, that he is still there.

My dad has changed in many ways, but he is still the man who backed me up when a teacher asked me to retract a story I’d written as editor of the high school paper, still the man who refused to let me go out with an older boy to a midnight movie, still the man who has guided, protected and stood by me through good and bad decisions.

In moments of fear, helplessness and yes, frustration, I was reminded this week to remember he hasn’t changed in those fundamental ways that matter.

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