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Rocket Man

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.

natchez trace

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.

natchez trace

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?


19 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nancy Glenn #

    I love that you are trying to instill in Cooper a desire “to see the world.” What an education it is to travel & explore! I hope that when Cooper is older, you and this young rocket man can travel together. Wouldn’t that be cool???

    June 15, 2014
    • His parents are totally on board with that idea, Nancy. Whether we take him somewhere or help him study overseas, I hope he will want to see the world.

      June 15, 2014
  2. Very cute. I must admit, I have no idea where it came from, but I crack my family’s joints to. Nothing more satisfying that those little fingers and toes going “crack”! Um, does that make me odd? Any odder than I already am?

    Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. And remember, one of the most important things about being a dad is just showing up. Be there. They will appreciate it. (And pop their knuckles if you get the chance.)

    June 15, 2014
    • Eek!!!! Maybe we are somehow related!!!!!

      Happy Father’s Day to you.

      June 15, 2014
      • If you ever need your toes popped, just let me know.

        June 15, 2014
  3. “But when someone’s gone, we’d take the worst moments, if only to have a loved one back again.”

    Well, crap, Andra, you got me to bawling. I miss my dad terribly some days. Just to hear his voice again would be wonderful, especially on Father’s Day. Dad was pretty stoic when it came to showing affection. He did not pinch or hug. In his later years, I would give him a peck on the cheek or give him a quick hug and dad would give me a “you’re making me uncomfortable” laugh. It didn’t matter because I knew he loved me. I really believe he gave his hugs with his humor, his one-line retorts which was more than OK. That’s a piece of him that I hold very dear. Happy Father’s Day to your dad, Happy Birthday to the little guy.

    June 15, 2014
    • One line retorts are an exquisite way to say I love you. Here’s to your memory of your father, Mary, and here’s to you. xo

      June 15, 2014
  4. My first mother in love would inquire upon our arrival from three hour’s travel too get to her home, “when you coming back?” Which I finally figured out meant how much she had missed us and how much she wanted to see us again. Happy Father’s s Day to your dad. And Cooper is very fortunate to have you and MTM to inspire his love of the world.

    June 15, 2014
    • I think that’s a perfect interpretation of her sentiments, Cheryl. She loved you so much, she couldn’t get enough of you. And that’s as it should be. 🙂

      June 15, 2014
  5. and happy father’s day to your dad and birthday to cooper. what wonderful and surprising memories, each unique in their own way )

    June 15, 2014
  6. My great aunt, whom I’ve written about, and we called Another-One-Yia Yia, because we couldn’t say Aunt Mary (duh?), would have us all scurrying like mice in a cupboard when she came. She would catch us and tickle us until it hurt. Wish she were here tickling me now.

    Happy Day – for all its reasons – to Roy and Cooper!

    June 15, 2014
  7. Debbie #

    This is my first Father’s Day without my Dad. I, too, miss talking to him. Every time he would leave a message he would say “Hey Deb, it’s just your Dad”.

    June 15, 2014
  8. Beautifully said, Andra, but you’ve done me in this morning; tears slipping down my cheeks at this line: “. . . when someone’s gone, we’d take the worst moments, if only to have a loved one back again.”

    Dad was a “tickler,” and Mom a “stickler” for everything being proper and ‘ladylike,’ but I’d give a pretty penny for just a day or two more.

    June 15, 2014
  9. Love the pictures! Happy fathers day to your Dad.

    June 15, 2014
  10. Happy day to Roy and Cooper!

    June 15, 2014
  11. I love the notion of Day-of-the-Dad. Dia de Padre. Great!

    June 15, 2014
  12. I love the photos, Andra! Please give our best to your Rocket Men on their happy days!

    June 15, 2014
  13. Oh Andra! Beautiful wishes and dreams for Cooper, and your dad must be so thrilled to know how much you love and cherish him, in all of his eccentricities. I would love to see the rocks and shells you’re bringing home. I know each one is going to be a treasure to a very special three year-old. Don’t know that I can think of anything quite as unusual as cracking toes. 🙂

    June 17, 2014
  14. Those are two awesome looking rocket men! Is a guideparent the same as a godparent?

    June 18, 2014

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