Does your family show affection in bizarre ways? My dead grandmother showed her adoration by cracking my toes, usually when I napped on the sofa or was stupid enough to leave a foot on top of the sheet. One of my aunts whispered “I love you” by hacking into my self-esteem, because she didn’t want me to become cocky, my ego unmanageable.
My father likes to pinch. It doesn’t help that I have more flab than I once did. At least, since I was three. Dad used to inflict his crab-like gestures of love on my arms and legs every time he got near me. I came to view my flesh squeezed between Dad’s fingers like kisses. Or hugs. Or verbalized murmurs of how much I meant to him.
My guideson Cooper didn’t see pinching that way. He met Dad in April, during my epic walk of the Natchez Trace. On the eve of Cooper’s great two-mile-hike with me, we went out to dinner. Dad planted himself next to Cooper’s high chair and pinched him. Once. Twice. The third time, Cooper let Dad have it. If he could’ve explained his mini-meltdown in logical terms, he would’ve told Dad, “Pinching DOES NOT mean love.”
Dad and Cooper worked things out. They even became buds. (Because we women want our men to be chums, right?)
Today, Dad and Cooper, two of my rocket men, share a day. It’s Father’s Day in the States, my father’s forty-sixth Day-of-the-Dad. And it’s Cooper’s third birthday. They’re celebrating in South Carolina and New York: Dad by going to church, watching sports and falling asleep in the recliner; Cooper with a party in a strawberry patch.
I wish I could pinch them both. Maybe pop their toes. Spending time with my father near the end of his life upended my identity. I will never be the same. What started as a selfish mission to promote a novel turned into an adventure with my dad, five weeks of constant engagement and non-stop entertainment direct from the man who made me. Life tricks us into thinking it’s about the high points. The happy times. The wins. But when someone’s gone, we’d take the worst moments, if only to have a loved one back again.
Much like being Cooper’s guidemother made me an unorthodox parent. I may be halfway around the globe, but I spend ridiculous amounts of time finding the perfect rock for Cooper. Or combing the beach for the most unique shell. Or agonizing over which postcard will make him want to travel when he’s big enough. I won’t ever know what it’s like to be a mother, but I hope I teach Cooper and the other children in my life to see the world. To accept it. To wallow in it and embrace it.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Happy Birthday, Cooper. Thank you for being two of my rocket men.
Back to my original question: Does your family show affection in bizarre ways? Do you have a rocket man in your life?