I have the fortunate memories of looking up at my father like he was a giant, when I was just a little girl. He would pick me up and put me on his shoulders and the trip from the ground felt like a thrill-ride from an amusement park. In fact, the childishly exaggerated memory I have of him lifting me is much like what I would expect the Six Flags Over Georgia ride, Acrophobia, to be like. My father has always been my strong protector, my guiding light.
With his dark and calloused skin from a lifetime of labor, and eyes hardened by life's most brutal of punches, my father has been the one man in my life who has always been there for me and would do anything for me. Through gritted teeth and a cynic's smile, he dealt me some of the harsh realities of the world while I was still learning the basics, and yet, his warm heart gave the right balance of contrast a child needs as one tries to understand life during the heavy and light times.
If ever there was a bigger sign of resentment in my parents' marriage, it was when it came to what career my father would rather have. When I was barely old enough to walk, he carried three jobs. Most of the time, the jobs that afflicted him with the most stress and sleep deprivation were the relatively menial tasks. When I was five years old, our trailer did not seem as small as it really was, the trailer park full of domesticate violence and substance abuse I slept through like, well, like a baby. My father washed windows at the local Krispy Kreme and cleaned small restaurants along with working at a rubber distribution company. He would load trailers full of the company's rubber stock, and secure the shipments so the truckers were ensured a safe trip. I never realized how hard it was on him. I just knew he would come home smelling of burnt rubber, and occasionally, when he would clean windows, we would get a box of Krispy Kreme donuts. All the while, I was unaware of how much my father hated what he did, and would have loved to be something more. At the time, he wanted to be a fireman. He always got a thrill off of helping others, and too many "Terminator" and "Die Hard" films had left him fantasizing about sending his adrenaline and heart rate over the deep-end. My mother did not approve.
Almost twenty years later, my father did it. He went through the Police Academy and graduated. I remember his speech he gave as his class's representative; I am grateful to have been conscious enough to have seen it and remembered it. He had the crowd laughing and crying. But my father was always good at those sorts of things. There are so many things I have learned from my father, but speaking to crowds is not one of them. Now he is a cop for the county department and I could not be more thrilled for him. He is making a difference. It is all he has ever wanted.
Two days ago, I was in the laundry room helping out by cleaning my father's work uniforms. As I was pulling them out of the dryer I was reminded of the last time I was humorously scolded for not doing his laundry correctly: "What are you retarded? Just--give me the pants, I'll do it, knucklehead," he said. He always has had a way with words.
I had to fold the pants legs on the creases and then hang them. The heaviness of the materials makes it difficult, so this time I got crafty. Pulling down the ironing board, I successfully folded his pants and hung them. By the second pair, I started to notice something peculiar. The pants seemed short--not even as long as the standard-size ironing board they were laying across. Whenever I would make comments growing up about my father being tall, he would just laugh and try to explain to me 5'10" is not tall for a man. "At the very least, it's average," he would say. I would not believe it, but in those days I did not know much of anything--actually, that still holds true.
However, the man I had always looked up to, because I am only about 5'4" myself, suddenly seemed a lot shorter than he had in the past. The same man with the gorilla like stature and muscles, did not seem as large to me anymore. And in all this time, he has never pressed upon me any Napoleon complexities and delusions. My father is my father, love him or hate him; he goes to great lengths not to change for anyone. Despite the bitterness in his voice when he is lacking sleep, the shortness in his temper when he is just not in the mood to deal with my awkward attempts at conversation, and no matter how tall: my father is my hero.