Father's Day is fast approaching, but so are many other momentous events. It would be an injustice for me to allow the day to pass without offering some sort of tribute to you. If I don't take care of this part of your gift now, it might not happen, so here's part of your early Father's Day gift, Daddy. Don't worry. I'm not a total cheapskate. I'll buy you something as well. You're a difficult person for whom to purchase a gift. You say you have everything you need.
At Christmas, Matthew and I are able to avoid the entire pas de deux of gift exchange (with your half of it, anyway; we still gladly accept any and all gifts from you; I wish to make that perfectly clear) by performing some act of service or kindness toward you or an act of charity on your behalf. This past Christmas, I allowed you to give me a flu vaccine without whining, crying, struggling, trying to run away, or threatening to call CPS. Even Judge Alex described me as practically Mother Theresa in terms of the generosity of my gift. I think his actual words were that I was "like Santa personified," but the sentiment was essentially the same. Still, I sensed that you felt was my gift was less than adequate. I'll try to do better with this gift-giving holiday, both in the words I write to you and the gift that I find to buy. (What does one buy for the man who thinks he has everything because he refuses to part with sweat pants that have holes in the knees or a pro-cut Giants' cap that has a worse case of "ring around the collar" than the shirt of the grimiest little first-grader at the school where I tutor when I'm home. The child's poor mom doesn't own a washer and has to carry her laundry three quarters of a mile to the nearest laundromat. If I owned a car and a held a valid driver's license, I'd drive her there myself.) My point is that the little boy has an excuse, but your excuse is frugality hiding behind sentimentality, which makes it incredibly hard to buy you a gift that you actually like.
You were the first person to actually touch me. The OB-GYN allowed you to lift me out of mom's midsection during the Caesarean delivery. While mom was able to lounge in her hospital bed, bonding with roly-poly six-pound-nine-ounce Matthew, I'm told that you spent a great deal of time in the NICU with me, the two-pound baby, give or take a few ounces. Mom tells me now that it made her very nervous to look at me, much less touch me through those rubber gloves extending into that incubator or isolette or whatever it was where I spent my initial weeks after being born. She said I reminded her so much of the premature twins she had lost at twenty-two weeks' gestation just short of two years earlier, and that she was afraid that as soon as she formed any sort of bond with me, I'd be gone as well. It probably made you nervous, too, but you overcame your unease and spent the time there with me anyway, and even at some point pushed my mother into the NICU in her wheelchair against her will and forced her to look at me and touch me. If you hadn't done that, who knows what might have happened? Mom and I might still be virtual strangers. I'm being silly, but what I'm trying to communicate is that dealing with and handling a micropreemie (I think we've finally agreed after years of arguing between mom and various doctors that Matthew and i were conceived in different cycles, accounting for the disparity in our sizes, and that I was technically a micropreemie) can't have been all that pleasant a task for you, because you'd watched micropreemie twins die two years earlier, too, but you forced yourself to do what was best for me no matter how it made you feel.
The psychology professor in the AP psychology class I took told me that it's utterly impossible for me to remember anything that happened during that period of my life. He was probably correct, but still, sometimes I think I can almost remember holding onto your finger through that rubber gloved-shaped extension into my isolette. Sometimes I'm sure I remember the feel of grasping your pinkie with my left hand.
Thanks for all the twenty-four and thirty-six hour shifts you pulled at the hospital, sometimes managing to slip out for midnight mass with us, so you could be at home with us on Christmas morning to see all the exciting toys Santa left for us. You must have wanted more than anything to crawl in your bed and sleep uninterrupted for twenty-four hours, but instead, you played with us and watched us enjoy our new possessions. I remember the Christmas morning when a neighbor living across the street yelled at me to get out of the street while riding my Big Wheel because you had literally fallen asleep standing up, leaning against the garage wall. I can only imagine your level of exhaustion.
As painful as it is for me to say this, I thank you for taking me out of gymnastics. My degree of skill was exceeded by my level of common sense by a margin that made me truly a danger to myself both at the gym and anywhere else I chose to practice my stunts. You and mom had already paid my fees for half the year -- fees tha were non-refundable-- and it must have been difficult to give up over a thousand dollars' worth of free babysitting. As angry as I was at the time, I know now that I might now be brain-damaged (which some say I am, but that's another story), fully or partially paralyzed, or worse. You did what a good parent had to do. I couldn't admit it at the time, but I now can, and I thank you for it.
Thank you for not always taking Matthew's side in our disputes. I have friends whose dads always side with the brothers in brother-sister arguments. (Mom tended to as well.) You didn't. You listened to both sides and usually made a fair ruling.
Thank you for staying at the hospital for so many nights when I broke my leg and collarbone last spring. I know you and mom were tired, and the recliners the hospital provided were poor substitutes for your Sleep Number bed. I probably would have been OK without you or mom there, because there were nurses and a few resident physicians still on duty in the middle of the night, but I was a lot more OK with one or both of you there to get me anything I needed.
Thanks for getting up in the middle of the night and playing your guitar for me when I have bad dreams and can't go back to sleep. Thanks for putting a little extra sugar in the grape Koolaid when you make it for me when I'm hurt or sick. (You wouldn't believe the difference in taste just that tiny extra amount of sugar makes.) Thanks for letting me take up so much DVR space with Judge Alex episodes. Thanks for making me bank most of my earnings. Thanks for hiding the rainbow sherbet so that Matthew can't eat the entire carton in one sitting before I even get a single bite
of it. Thanks for saying no and standing your ground when I ask to do something that's really not a good thing for me to do.
I don't know yet what your real present will be. If you have a specific want, it wouldn't hurt to make it easier by telling me or telling Mom or at least hinting. In the meantime, I want you to know how much I love and appreciate you. You're the most wonderful dad in the world.