I was around 13 or 14-years old. My sister, my parents and I were watching some mind numbing sitcom, and my two brothers were in their bedroom, doing stuff teenage boys do. There was a storm and the power went out. We scrambled and found candles and flashlights and everyone congregated in the living room. Cranky teenagers, forced together without the familiar salve of television comfort, sitting on the floor in the awkward silence and candle-lit darkness.
My father took over, slyly reining us in with his funny anecdotes and philosophical questions. He was the king of storytelling, the master of making the best out of sucky situations. He made us laugh, and coaxed us out of our resentment, knowing that the darkness and the edge of fear helped to free inhibitions.
His jovial, enormous energy pulled us all together like reluctant metal to an unrelenting magnet. He was the epitome of optimism. ALL the time. But especially when everyone else wanted to slit their wrists and flee.
I worked for him briefly when I was in college, crunching numbers, answering phones, making coffee, learning how to be a person.
I watched him as he interacted with the employees, watched as he solved problems, feverishly sold contracts over the phone, read the Wall Street Journal as he drank his tea, in his suit and tie. I was proud to be his daughter. He was funny as hell. He was kind, and he was smart. His mind worked in a way that baffled me. That challenged me.
He took me out to lunch on many occasions during those couple of years we worked together. We always went to Hall's Restaurant, mainly because it was close to the office. I always ordered the grilled ham and swiss. He joked around (flirted) with the waitresses, which was both embarrassing and comforting. He taught me about physics and engineering by building structures made out of utensils, salt and pepper shakers and Equal packets. And he always bought me one of those ten cents York peppermint patties at the checkout counter.
Sometimes, when he invited my mom, we'd go to the Chinese restaurant. I loved these days most of all. Just my parents and me. He built the structures there too. Looking back, I understand that he was trying to pull me out of my rebellious cloud. He was being a father. He loved me.
There was also the time my fatal attraction stalker flew over the cuckoo's nest. The boy (lets call him "Nate" because I've always liked that name, ever since "Six Feet Under") accosted me right before my Abnormal Psychology class. Weeping and causing a mortifying scene, Nate told me that he really could not live without me. And if he couldn't have me, nobody could. This guy was a damn walking cliché.
I tried to be firm (we all know this is not my forte). It was over. It was never even anything. Well, it was something, but not a good thing. Leave me alone. You freak. (I didn't say the freak part because I'm nice.) But Nate said/threatened that he was going to be in my car when I was done with class. Waiting. He knew me well enough to know that I did not lock my car. I was young, and careless and driving a Ford Escort. I made mistakes.
So I called my dad. Told him the situation. He asked me where my car was parked (um, somewhere near Neff Hall). He told me to just go to the library parking lot and take his car home. He would leave the keys under the mat. He didn't falter, or had to think about the options. He would take care of it. He always took care of it.
I still went to class, sweaty and frantic. Abnormal FREAKING PSYCHOLOGY. And when I got to the library parking lot after class, there was my father's car. He had saved me. Poor, poor Nate never saw it coming.
There was also that one time when I was in jail. (I know, right?) I called him (my dad, not Nate) and he picked me up and we didn't talk about it. But the next morning, he woke me up for work at 7 a.m. Two hours of sleep and hung over, I was going to the office because I may have thrown a Zima bottle out of my car window the night before, I was still expected to maintain a decent work ethic the morning after.
On the drive to work that foggy, humiliating morning, my father told me that he loved me.
It was the only time he ever said it.
It was surprising and everything to me, but I was too broken to respond. I don't remember if we went to lunch together that day.
I was his sous-chef over the years. He taught me how to make quiche and how to properly caramelize onions. He was passionate about food and scoffed at the American fast food tradition. If you can make it from scratch, do it. And if it takes 12 hours to properly braise the roast, just have yourself a glass of wine and wait. Slow food is good food.
And for the love of all that is sacred in the world, serve your Bordeaux and Camembert at room temperature.