Happy Father’s Day, from ‘Daddy’s girl’
Father’s day, and I’m thinking a lot about Charlie. Charlie was my dad. I lost him when I was 20 years old, but by then he had shaped almost everything about me.
Charlie had three daughters and he wanted another son. The day I was born, my mother prepared for impending childbirth by painting her toenails, while everyone around her became increasingly nervous. Finally, Charlie coaxed her into a taxi and delivered her to the hospital. By the time he paid the taxi, completed the paperwork and found the maternity floor, he was shown pink-bundled me. (Fast work, Mom) Straight-faced, he asked the horrified nurse, “Can you just drop it?”
Charlie loved me beyond reason, just the way I loved him. He wanted a son, so I would be that. We would have adventures.
When I was little, Charlie told me I was secret royalty. The family story, as told by Grandpappy, involved a Duke of Portland and his commoner/paramour, Annie. The elaborate history included the burial of a stone-filled coffin, and the besotted duke leaving his life of privilege for the woman he loved (and a career as a baker). I grew up certain of my nobility. Of course, Grandpappy was also the guy who told me that the best way to catch a fish is to sit by the water and “make sounds like a worm.”
On Montreal’s waterfront, Charlie and I would steal bags of grain from a storage silo and go feed pigeons in the park. Recently, in St. Mark’s Square, Venice, I fed the pigeons, remembering the feeling of fat, soft bodies pressing against me, tickled by wings.
We went to the racetrack where Charlie knew everybody. Exercise boys, trainers, Charlie knew them all. We would bring the horses treats, sugar cubes and carrots. Charlie taught me to hold my palm flat so they wouldn’t nip my fingers. I was allowed to sit on a gentle racehorse and a trainer would walk him around – glory days.
At Charlie’s uncle’s chicken farm, I loved to catch garter snakes in the yard. One day a snake bit me. I was shocked and ran crying to Charlie. After hugs and bandages, Charlie told me, “You’re a lot bigger than that snake. How do you think he feels?” And we discussed ways to not scare snakes.
He rented a pony for me by the hour from the local lumberyard. I rode on city streets. When I wanted to go fast, Charlie ran beside me.
Every year, my family rented a ramshackle cabin by a lake for the whole summer. Charlie would borrow a truck to move us. There was an outdoor pump and no electricity. The iceman would deliver big blocks of ice.
Weekdays, Charlie stayed in the city to work in the steel mill. Friday afternoons I would greet him at the bus stop and we would go to the ice cream stand where I could have as much ice cream as I wanted! We were dirt poor, but Charlie’s philosophy was sometimes you live large.
Weekends belonged to Charlie. He cooked. Sunday breakfast was British soul food, huge and greasy; dinner was The Roast, with mashed potatoes and gravy.
Holidays were magic. I can’t imagine how Charlie managed such extravagance. Sure, he got the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve for half price. But on Christmas morning there it was, beautifully decorated, with tons of presents. He must have worked all night.
On Halloween, Charlie always bought chocolate bars to hand out to the trick-or-treaters. No apples or popcorn balls for us! We were the best house on the block.
Charlie gave me the gift that all fathers need to give their daughters. He liked me, he approved of me and he wanted to spend his time with me. How could I accept less than that in any relationship?
Women who struggle with self-doubt and self-esteem, who love too much, who live in abusive relationships, I think that these are most often women who were damaged by their daddies. Fathers are so powerful in the lives of their daughters. They can make us or break us. I never doubted myself, because Charlie never doubted me.
One Halloween morning when I was 20 years old, Charlie didn’t get up. Puzzled, I went into his bedroom calling “Daddy!” When I touched him, I knew what was wrong.
That night the doorbell rang and rang and I handed out Charlie’s last chocolate bars to the neighborhood kids.
Diane Goldstein is a resident of Grass Valley.
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