My father and I have a convoluted relationship, to say the least. He was not a conventional parent. In fact, he fought against convention. He had my brother and me call him by his name, Danny. “I’m a person, not a title,” he would say. “If you call me Dad, I’ll call you Daud. If you call me Daddy, I’ll call you Daudy. Call me Danny. That’s my name.”
We called, and call, him Danny.
I had very few rules and constraints growing up – not coming home at night required only a quick call to say just that, “Dan, I’m not coming home.” I may have misinterpreted him, but I felt little, if any, concern for me.
He wasn’t one for expressing affection. There were no hugs, at least not since I was little. He’d come home late from his bartending job and lock himself out and wake me up to let him in, and he’d tell me over and over (and over and over) how it didn’t matter that he loved me because he had to, but he liked me and that’s what mattered. I can’t remember him ever saying “I love you.”
When my then-boyfriend, now-husband first met Danny, he had a clear read on him. “Your father loves you so much,” he said.
“No he doesn’t,” I immediately – without a doubt in my mind – responded.
I knew then that he didn’t love me, and I knew if for years after. It was only when we were planning my wedding that I began to somehow see traces of love from Danny, as he stood by me as we negotiated details with my soon-to-be in-laws.
But many years later when I had my second child – my son – my father was there for me in a way no one else was.
My son was born four weeks early, just shy of preemie. In many ways, it seemed as if he wasn’t ready to be out in the world; he spent nearly 24 hours a day curled up on top of me, as if he only wanted to still be curled up inside of me. He slept on me at night. He slept on me during the day. He needed to be held – and held – constantly. Needless to say, it was tiring.
And Danny? Danny, my bar-tending father who never wanted to work a day in his life, who now owned a restaurant that had him working pretty much 28-9 out of the available 24-7, came to see me every week on Wednesday, his only day off, so that he could hold my son and I could sleep. It might have been the only time Danny had for himself – the only day he could wake up slowly and enjoy his pot of coffee and morning cigarettes without having to rush off anywhere to do anything – and he headed to Grand Central Station to take the hour-long train to my house, to hold my son so I could sleep.
No one else did that for me.
No one else sacrificed their only downtime to give me downtime. No one else helped me, without fail, week in and week out. They may have expressed their love for me more often and vocally. They may have shown up in more traditional ways throughout my life. But Danny, who professed to want nothing more than a day with nothing to do, let me be his something to do on his every day off. Week in and week out.
No one else did what he did.