From the time I was in second grade, I wanted to be a teacher. But our family was a paycheck-to-paycheck family. By the time I was a senior in high school, we didn’t have the money for a college application, much less the money to send me off to school. I was sixteen, angry and miserable.
After one especially bitter battle with my mother, I threw some clothes in a bag and ran out of the house. Hours later, Daddy found me on a bench at the bus station downtown. He sat down beside me, and asked if I remembered the time after his heart attack.
I remembered. I’d been 12 years old, and I’d seen how fast a family could be turned upside down.
Daddy said it was the worst time in his life. Worse than when the doctors thought the lumps on his neck were cancer. Worse than when his best friend died. Worse than when he was in a terrible car crash and smashed through the windshield and tore his shoulder open.
“Your mother was at home when they took the station wagon,” he said in a low voice. “And then they said they were going to take the house. She cried every night.”
He paused for a long time. “I just couldn’t face it.”
Sitting there on the bench in the bus station, he told me that he had failed and that the shame had nearly killed him. He wanted to die.
What happened? I asked.
Daddy sat silently for a long time, caught somewhere in his memories of those awful days. He still didn’t look at me. Finally, he took my hand in both of his and held it tightly.
It got better, he said. Your mother found work. We made some payments. After a while, I went back to work. We had less money, but it was enough to get by. We got caught up on the mortgage. You seemed to do okay.
Finally he turned and looked at me. “Life gets better, punkin.”
And he was right. Daddy and I headed home. It was a winding path, but I eventually made it through college and started teaching school. And once one door opened, so did another and another. Life got better.
I’ve carried that story in my pocket for decades. It was how I made it through the painful parts. Divorce. Disappointments. Deaths. When things get tough, I still hear my daddy’s voice, telling me to hang on. It’s a part of him that will always be with me.
Happy Father’s Day to all the daddies who are trying their hardest. Happy Father’s Day to every daddy who sets the example every day of what it means to care for the people you love. Happy Father’s Day to every daddy who tells a child, “Life gets better, punkin.”
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