The trees were passing by me at the same rate that my anger was rising. I was in the passenger seat, fuming over a comment that had come from the driver’s seat. I had my hand on the door handle, and was a simple motion away from taking the most dramatic teenage stand possible against my father in that moment.
Yes, I opened the door. How many inches? Likely 2. How fast were we going? Probably 20 miles per hour. Did I shut that door the instant I saw the furious eyes that had moved from the road to me? Yes, immediately. Okay—so, it could have been a more dramatic stand. But, I tried.
My high-school relationship with my dad was equivalent to a fight in a moving vehicle: it was characterized by anger that builds to fill a confined space and gets hopelessly trapped. All the while, the two bodies within the vehicle keep moving forward together—forced to figure out how to navigate because, well, there are few other viable options for getting from Point A to Point B.
Part of the reason our confined space filled so quickly was because of the passion that radiated from my dad. While that passion would sometimes take the form of heated, stubborn arguments, it more importantly took the form of dedication and love—both of which would roll down the windows to let the hot air out and usher the fresh air in.
My dad’s passion looked like a fight about my performance at a swim meet, but it also looked like the dedicated fan who didn’t leave his spot for hours on end at that same swim meet—despite the hot, chlorine-soaked air. It looked like the fan who cheered his head off with me in excitement the first time I ever won an event. It looked like the fan who drove from New Jersey to Florida (straight) to surprise me and watch me swim for two minutes at YMCA Nationals.
My dad’s passion was the depression he felt when feuding with his brother over how to take care of his ailing mother. But, it was also the presence he had every single day at the nursing home she was in. It was the spoon-fed lunches; the Alzheimer-induced scratches he endured from his own mother; the soiled laundry he took home every day to clean at our house.
My dad’s passion looked like screaming matches with my mom over how to raise two girls, but it also looked like the humble decision to stay home with us and own the persona of the stay-at-home dad before it was a common one. It looked like doing laundry, teaching us to read, school pick-ups, and vacuuming. Most importantly, it looked like empowering his two daughters to know a woman could be a breadwinner without a man interrupting her greatness; instead: a woman could be a breadwinner with a man lifting her up to shine even brighter.
We pulled into the driveway, with angry tears in my eyes and stubborn frustration in his. I opened the door, this time with the car in park. I stepped outside and breathed in the fresh air, and was reminded that we do always make it from Point A to Point B.
Thank you, Dad, for navigating there with me. In your words: “I love you more than you will ever know,” and I’m so grateful for all seven decades of your time on Earth (happy birthday!).