Some of the most loving fathering I’ve had was not when I was a small child or a teenager. It wasn’t when Dad said he loved me; that’s only happened a few times in my life. It wasn’t through hugs; those are rare. He’s not that kind of guy. He’s a serious man—a retired cop who has seen a lot of rough things in his life. Fortunately, though, he has grown a little softer through the years. So, when I think of how my father has cared for me and sheltered me, I think back to my late 20s when I moved out-of-state to Arizona for graduate school and then moved back home a couple of years later.
I made a neglectful mistake by not asking my father for help in driving the huge, stuffed U-Haul with my car in tow when I moved to Flagstaff. I’m an independent person and I didn’t think to ask for help—or maybe I didn’t think he would help me. It didn’t occur to me that I didn’t know how to drive a truck while hauling a trailer until my father asked me several times if I really knew what I was doing.
“I wish I had known sooner when you were leaving. I could have taken time off and helped you move,” he said.
“Oh,” I paused—the thought just occurring to me for the first time that I could have asked him. I reassured him I’d be fine, trying to convince him and myself that I could move on my own.
“Make sure you don’t hit anything with that trailer. Driving a trailer is not easy, Cathy,” he said with a knitted brow. I smiled faintly, looking doubtful, and told him I’d figure it out. But as I was driving away and ran over the curb with the trailer, I began to tear up, cursing myself for not thinking beyond packing the truck. I had no idea what it was going to be like pulling a trailer.
A couple of hours later, I nearly took out a gas pump and had to beg the attendant to pull the truck out for me. After that incident, I made sure to only buy gas where I could pull through easily. About 11 p.m., desperate to stop for the night, my young sister and I ended up at a motel in Albuquerque. I pulled into the parking lot and had nowhere to pull through, but didn’t realize it until it was too late. I was boxed in with a chain link fence ahead of me. The next morning, it took me 30 minutes to back my way out of the lot, practically t-boning my car in the process. Eventually, we reached Flagstaff and I immediately dropped off the trailer at U-Haul. I never wanted to see another one again.
When my two years of graduate school in Health Psychology were nearly over, my dad kindly responded to my desperate plea to come help me move home. A few nights before he came to Arizona, I experienced an incident so frightening that I called him in the middle of the night crying. Late the night before I defended my thesis, I was watching TV because I couldn’t sleep, rehearsing my thesis defense in my mind. To compound my stress, I was getting sick. In a couple of days it would be bronchitis and a sinus infection. I was fidgety thinking about whether I’d be able to successfully defend my thesis the next day.
I lived in a tiny studio apartment, less than 500 square feet. I slept on a futon in the main room just a few feet away from the front window. My apartment faced out to a never-ending forest on the edge of town and I had the window open. Even though the blinds were pulled down, I could still smell the pine trees outside. The apartment was dark except for the light coming from the TV. Suddenly, a man wearing a baseball cap was standing against my window peering down through the blind slats at me. I could hear the gravel under his feet as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. I froze. The gravity of the situation didn’t escape me—I knew he could rip my screen out and get to me in 3 steps. My breathing stopped. I felt a rush of adrenaline surging from my kidneys, flooding my blood stream. I was outside myself watching my reaction. I thought, so this is how it feels when something like this happens.
I knew I wasn’t helping myself by freezing: I had to take action. After what was only about 20 seconds but seemed much longer, I heard my voice say, very calmly, “You better get out of here, or I’m calling the police.” He didn’t flinch. He stared. I thought, thank God this is the one night I didn’t put my phone on the charger across the room. “I mean it. I’m calling,” I said louder. He still didn’t move. I slowly reached over and picked up the phone. I dialed. “Police. Is this an emergency?” The dispatcher said. He was so close he could hear the dispatcher’s voice. As I replied saying quietly, “Yes, there is a man outside my window,” the man walked away. The dispatcher told me to stay on the phone with her until an officer arrived. Once the officer pulled up, I quickly hung up the phone, dressed, and answered the door.
I tried to downplay the situation to the cop: “Oh, it’s just a peeping Tom. They’re harmless.” “Oh, no they aren’t harmless,” he said. “It always escalates. First it’s peeping, then it’s assault.” He spent the next hour convincing me I needed to be scared by telling me stories of peeping Toms “gone violent”. It worked and after he left, I was frightened, feeling vulnerable.
I called my dad in Denver. I tried to be strong; but as always, I cried as soon as my daddy—my protector—answered the phone. Sobbing. “What’s wrong, Cathy?” he asked. More sobbing. “Cathy?” he asked again. Finally I managed a couple words in between gasps for air. “Some—guy—was just—outside my window—peering in—at me. I called—the police. I’m—okay. Okay, I’m scared—but I’ll be alright. Sorry, Dad—for waking you up.” Slowly I regained my composure. His reaction was soothing: “Too bad you didn’t have a gun! You could have whipped that right out in his face and scared him to death! That would teach him not to peep in windows.” I felt better after talking to him, but still had to make it alone until graduation.
Finally, Dad arrived. I picked him up in Phoenix and we rented a U-Haul and drove back to Flagstaff. That night in my apartment Dad said, “I hope that guy comes back and I’ll hurl this front door open and scare the heck out of him. What do you think he’d think about that?” He threw the front door open and looked outside, rehearsing his imaginary scene. I laughed and felt comforted. Finally, that night I slept. Dad probably slept for the first time in days, too. Graduation was the next day and Dad and I had a quiet dinner at my favorite restaurant and then we began packing and cleaning. Soon we were on the road headed back to Colorado. No more peeping Toms to worry about. I was moving in with my dad for “a while” while I looked for work. Going home.
Not only did Dad give me a wonderful place to stay for free, he paid my bills while I looked for a job. We gardened and fixed up his new house together. I repaid his kindness by cooking home-made meals for him and cleaning. We were buddies, watching our favorite TV shows together and going to eat dinner in new restaurants.
One night, we got home late from dinner. I felt disappointed that it was dark already but was determined to get in my daily run around the townhouse complex. Dad said, “Can’t you wait until tomorrow? It’s just not safe to run at night, Cathy.”
“Dad, you can’t worry about me so much! I’m 28 years old! How do you think I’ve survived all these years without you?” I smiled, went up to my room, changed clothes, and started jogging around the huge complex on the sidewalk. It started to rain. As I was coming up the last stretch, breathing hard, I thought “I bet he’s worried sick about me.” After I cleared the last hill, I thought I saw something move under a tree. I squinted through the darkness and rain and looked again. There, hiding behind the tree, soaking wet, was my dad—holding a flashlight and making sure I was safe. And that is the way he loves me.