It was clearly a man’s world, the hardware store in downtown Old Greenwich. And I felt part honored and part trespasser when I followed my dad through the door . It was Saturday morning, part of a ritual my dad kept, probably to keep himself grounded after a week of working in advertising and finances in New York City. I never understood what he did. “Public Relations,” I’d repeat to my friends and watch the same puzzlement cross their faces that I felt . One day my dad told me it was “the art of BS” and I didn’t know what that was either until a few years later. My father never swore, unless it was late Christmas Eve and he still hadn’t assembled a train set or doll house, then it was muttered just above a whisper which my mom always heard even if she was in another state.
“Bob, stop the Navy talk,” she’d say quietly.
In some ways I was the apple of my dad’s eye. The first daughter, I was less stressful for him to be around. The boys had Little League, Boy Scouts, Indian Guide and tree forts to build. My dad loved it all, but it was another male conquest, with all of the guts and glory that he had to wade through. I think he liked the simplicity of my world, the side-line bystander, and the low-demand aspect of our relationship. So I became a part of his trip to the hardware store and I would keep still next him as he bantered with the other men there, then wandered down the dark aisles smelling of grease and metal. He left always with a purchase that would end up on his workbench in the basement, his man-cave and escape, that smelled like the hardware store with a hint of mildew.
I can’t explain it, but I felt so safe with my dad in his paint-splattered khaki pants, my little steps trying to keep up with his big ones. Even on vacation he was in overdrive, running from fishing to swimming to camping to skiing. But Saturday morning trips to the hardware store had a secret kind of rhythm – sort of a transcendent harmony. I saw my dad relax. And he let me be a part of it.
Not too long after that everything changed. My brother Timmy died when I was eight and my father became angry, then quiet and then he was gone. I grew into a young woman, awkwardly leaving my little girl body behind, compounding my father’s uneasiness in my presence. From my perspective, it was my first and worst rejection. A bottle replaced family, career, his very life. Years later, when we were cleaning out the house before it was sold we found a huge cache of little liquor nips stashed above the workbench. Booze had even taken over his sacred place of peace.
My father was not good at fixing things. The few times I wandered into his workbench world, I was under impressed. Something was clamped, or in scattered pieces, including my brother’s monster models. When a repair actually needed to be made, you could tell my dad fixed it. He was not a man of detail and finesse. Mismatched paint strokes, lumpy patch jobs and screws that never held. More navy talk. But he was the best bedtime Story Teller, bringing us aboard lost ships and through creepy castles, then meeting gentle giants, and silly snakes. The Art of BS was just the Story Teller in a grown-up business world.
On Father’s Day I always reminisce. Mine died almost 40 years ago, but as I travel back, it always seems the first place I visit is the hardware store, long ago engulfed in a wave of corporate buy-outs. Once it was the best place, a place of privilege for a little girl normally excluded from a man’s world. Maybe because I am so secure in my heavenly Father’s love now, and the apple of His eye, I can afford to revisit the sad parts with grace and understanding. Thirty five years ago, after I had knelt at an altar and asked for God’s forgiveness, He in turn asked me to forgive my father. The deep roots of pain and bitterness were gently removed and a new love, a real and perfect love was formed in my heart. And I am grateful for my dad, because he loved me the very best he could.
I love to watch my son Miles with his two daughters. Even at their young ages, I can tell that they reflect their own beauty and sense of worth, of woman-hood off of their very loving and attentive dad. They’ve already won the battle that so many father-less little girls face. They are secure in their daddy’s love. And when they are grown with wings of their own, they’ll search for a man who loves and honors them the way their father does. But the most valuable thing my son does for his girls is point them to Jesus, towards a perfect Father, who will love them with an everlasting love, who will guard their hearts and keep them pure.
I salute all of you dads out there this Father’s Day and the amazing job you do – loving your kids, your wives and your aging crazy moms like me! It is a beautiful, if imperfect, image of God’s love for His very needy children. And I thank you, my Abba Father, for Your patience, Your tender mercies and grace; for granting me a secret place of my own, within your heart. even better than an old hardware store on a lovely Saturday morning, a place of refuge and a Father’s perfect love.