“Do you think you could make this? I need them for my science project at school.” Alex stood beside me with an origami book opened to a page showing a diagram of an airplane. I was finishing dinner at a gathering of Circles, an organization with a goal of moving families out of the cycle of poverty. I and some college aged women (I gladly take the role of grandmother to the grade school aged kids) do childcare while their parents attend meetings on Tuesday evenings.
I was more than a little flattered that he’s asked me over those college girls (Who wouldn’t be?) and quickly agreed that I would try. I can’t see an origami book without thinking of my dad and the hours we used to spend together when I was young. Once I wrote a children’s story based on those times with him:
Some People Call Me Daddy’s Girl.
On Saturday mornings my daddy and me go to the bakery where they sell day old bread but my mommy and my brother call it used bread. I wear overalls and my daddy wears his brown jacket that’s too tight when he zips it up. The man there always gives me something free, like cupcakes. Daddy says it’s because I smile at him. He says I could get anything with that smile. He says it like I do that way on purpose but I just smile at that man when he smiles at me.
Sometimes, on Saturday afternoons we walk to the drugstore. We’re supposed to be on “errands” but we like to sit at the counter and have root beers. When we’re walking home my daddy says, “Now if your mother asks if you had something, you tell her, but you don’t have to tell her if she doesn’t ask.” He always says that but my mommy never asks.
I got an origami paper folding set for my birthday and my daddy and me sit at the kitchen table and try to make something. I read the directions and we do what it says. Sometimes it makes you fold up the paper and then unfold it. It says, “Now return to your basic shape.” My daddy always acts mad when it says that, like the book is silly. We’ve made a basket and a bird, and the polar bear up to step four.
Sometimes we paint with my watercolors. I painted three horses while my daddy did one giraffe. He had to paint it with hundreds of tiny brown and yellow dots– for “shading” he said. He still hasn’t finished it and keeps saying, “Where is that giraffe? I’m going to finish it one day.”
When a new catalog comes in the mail, me and my daddy look at it, page by page. We have a game that on each page you get to pick out one thing you want. Even if it’s just towels, you get to pick out the color. My favorite is the flower catalog because sometimes we really order things. We never order the towels.
When I make doll clothes I take them to my Daddy. I say, “What grade does this get?” Then he looks at my doll clothes real careful, first on the outside and then on the inside. If there’s a loose string hanging, he points to it and looks at me with his mouth turned down. Then I say, “Oh, Daddy, that’s just a little string.” And then he gives me an A minus and says, “Pretty good,” and I sigh like I wish I would get a plain A, just once.
Three times my daddy and me went to the dog pound to get a dog. We didn’t see any dogs in the cages that were right but I was sad about all of them anyway. On the third time the lady there said she had a special dog and she had it at her house. She said she was waiting for just the right people to get it. We went to her house and the dog whined and shivered when I petted him, but the lady said he was just happy. We named him Sandy. The first day he wet on the carpet but then he never did again so maybe he was nervous. My mommy says she doesn’t know who loves that dog more, my daddy or me.
Every night at bedtime my daddy and me plan our farm. My daddy wants a big garden and I want a horse. Sometimes we talk about how big the pasture will be. Sometimes we talk about if we want any cats or only Sandy and one other dog, to keep him company when I’m at school. Sometimes we talk about how we have to trick my mommy and my brother to go out there cause they say they don’t like farms. We whisper when we talk about that part.
In the summer I help my daddy water the plants. I put my finger over the hose nozzle so it sprays like rain. My mommy says why don’t we buy a sprayer attachment cause they’re cheap and her friend Vera says they work real good. My daddy says this works better. When his begonia puts out little buds he says she’s pregnant and then in a few days he says, “The mother and babies are doing find but I’ve put them in the intensive care unit.” That means he’s put them near the house where they won’t get too much wind or rain.
When it gets cold again we play games at night. My daddy is smart but he’s not very quick at games. When I win he says he owes me a candy bar and do I want to play for double or nothing. Now he owes me 256 candy bars but I don’t think I’m going to get them.
Once in a while my brother and I do get candy bars at the grocery store. He eats his right away but I save mine. I take it out later and eat it real slow. If my daddy sees me he says, “Now I know this is hard to believe, but once there was a little girl who was so selfish she wouldn’t share her candy bar with her nice daddy.” My mommy says, “Ignore him,” but I give him a little bit anyway. Every time I do that.
Sometimes my daddy says when he gets old I’ll trade him in for a new model, like you do with a car. I don’t like it when he says that, but he says it all the time, anyway. I tell him not to say such things, but then I kiss him and tell him never.
Never will I trade my daddy in for a new model.
He died on this day, sixteen years ago. He gave me his time and attention and a model of what it is to be a good father. But more than that, he gave me something that seems rare in this world: I can’t remember a single time when he wasn’t glad to see me or hear my voice or when he acted like he’d rather be somewhere else. And although I felt this way about him as a little girl, later I was often impatient to be finished with his company, eager to be somewhere else.
Alex and I sat on the floor and made airplanes. The only paper we could find was thick and bulky and we had trouble figuring out the directions (Though it never said “Now return to your basic shape.”). My knees hurt and other boys kept interrupting. But we managed two planes that stayed aloft and seemed to please Alex. From what I know, he has no father at home.
With ten minutes left before the session was over, he asked if he could go out in the hall and test his science project. Halfway to the door he turned back and looked at me. “Can you come too?” I just hope, as we stood at the two ends of the hallway, with him sending the airplanes off and me marking the landing sites, that he could tell there was nowhere else I wanted to be.