Saturday, March 14, 2009

Time Flying, While Standing Still - The Child Eternal

In my dad’s wallet is my picture. His baby girl, his princess. I was a daddy’s girl, I freely admit. Spoiled rotten. I thought my dad was the strongest, smartest man on earth. And like any man, if a female no matter what her age, is willing to think that about them, who are they to argue?

I know he admires the woman I’ve become. He is proud of all of my accomplishments, both personal and professional. He gives me a great deal of credit for how well adjusted and level headed my kids have turned out. And as a man with 3 less than stellar marriages under his belt, he is especially pleased that I seem to be able to make marriage work for me, when it never did for him. I frequently have to remind him that my husband was a key participant in both the child rearing and the marriage (and deserves an overwhelming majority of the credit for both.) But, as a doting father, he still gives me all the glory.

I find it both sweet, touching and embarrassing that at his age (80+) and mine, he still brags about my career and professional accomplishments to anyone who will listen. Just like he used to brag about my grades and every childhood accomplishment.

I'm not saying my relationship with my dad has always been idyllic. We've had some very rough passages, long stretches of time when I would have nothing to do with him. My childhood hero worship died a long time ago. I think I see him fairly clearly now. Like everyone, he has carried an overflowing bagful of faults as he lived his life. But he also has qualities and much to admire. When you are worshiping a hero, you may be blind to the faults, but you are also blind to the real gifts contained. Now I think I see both.

But the point I want to make is, even though I know he recognizes and is proud of the adult I’ve become, the picture in my dad’s wallet, is my second grade class picture.

Looking at it now it is obvious I had recently taken scissors to my bangs, yet again. According to my mother, this was a common theme of my childhood. I was missing a couple of my front teeth so I am sporting an extremely unattractive grin. My ears are sticking out from my fine, absolutely straight hair and my facial expression makes me look some what troll-like. It might be the worst picture I have ever taken in my life.

I know though, that when my dad closes his eyes and conjures up my image, he is conjuring up Lulu at seven. The little girl in that picture that was absolutely certain her dad was the greatest man on earth.

For a long time I never understood why he kept this particular photo. I’ve taken so many pictures through the years and in most of them I look very attractive. But, it has gradually dawned on me that how cute or how homely I was in that picture didn’t matter to him at all. What mattered to my dad was the memory of me, when I loved him the most.

It has taken an even longer time to understand that his memory of me is also his reality. Even though he rationally knows I am a grown woman, I am also still his little girl. To him, the grown woman and the little girl aren’t separated by forty years. They both exist in his reality at the very same time. There is no succession of Lulus in his mind. Lulu at one, Lulu at twelve, Lulu at thirty. There is just me. One, twelve, thirty and this very moment, all at the very same time.

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