Shortly after I found myself without a mother, my father announced to me one day that he could be the mother.
"You can't be the mother," I said to him, holding back angry tears as the reality of my mother's all-to-soon death started to sink in during that first summer that she was gone. "You are the father."
"Then I will be the father and the mother," he explained to me with his ever-present smile and upbeat attitude, which I always wished that I could somehow bottle and sell. I would have made a fortune off of it.
His positive attitude and even-keeled nature was a staple of my childhood. He had a few key pieces of advice which guided his life and which he passed on to my brother and me: work hard, try your best no matter what, live below your means, never go to bed angry, never sue anyone and always get along with your family members.
This advice was never far from me, and I always appreciated the solid relationship I had with my father, but still, he was my father -- not my mother. He went to work, came to my school plays, visited me at camp, cheered for my teams and as I got older, inquired about the tire pressure in my car and the RAM on my computer.
My mother was the one with whom I shared my secrets. She helped me through the trials and tribulations of childhood and adolescence. She was always there with the right tools and words to help heal my skinned knee or mend my broken heart. She taught me about manners and values and what to say and do and wear. She showed me by example what it meant to be a good friend and really a good person -- a compassionate and contributing member of society. But then she died when she was 57, and to say I felt lost was an understatement.
No one would ever fill that void left by her death, I told myself, and it's true that no one really has. But my father has certainly made that void feel a little less empty.
We have spent more quality time together in the last decade since my mother died than we probably did in the nearly first three decades of my life when my mother was alive. It's possible that I've had dinner with my father more as an adult than I did as a child. He is the biggest fan of my mediocre cooking and always pays me a compliment even when I serve him pasta with vodka sauce (from the jar) or his favorite item, "chicken Rach" -- which is really just the frozen Mandarin Orange Chicken in a bag from Trader Joe's.
My father has done a lot of the things that my mother used to do with me as a child and probably some of the things that she would have done if she had lived to see me in real adulthood. He sometimes comes shopping with me and patiently waits outside the dressing room while I try on clothes, offering pretty sound advice on what looks good and what doesn't. We've also gone grocery shopping together, furniture shopping together and even car shopping together. He's been to doctor's appointments with me and I with him. He's gotten to know my friends really well and hangs out with us on occasion, whether it's for a cup of coffee or a visit at my house. He remembers key details about their lives and has been know to get into some good discussions with them.
My discussions with my father have gone to a whole new level in recent years -- deeper than our very quick check-in talks of my childhood. We talk on the phone nearly every day. We tell each other our secrets and every now and then, he'll joke to me that our conversation should remain "just between us girls." I get it. So does he.
My father has probably stepped up to the plate the most in the grandparent department. I often wonder about what kind of grandmother my mother would have been. I think she would have been great, but the truth is I'll never know. My father has been an awesome grandfather.
When he's in town, he is always there to babysit if I need him. He's met my kids off the bus more times than I care to count when I got stuck somewhere and when he's with my kids, he's really with them -- interested in all they have going on their lives. I'll admit that it did take me some time to feel comfortable with him watching my kids. When they were babies, I saw him as a warm body -- someone who could call the fire department if need be when they were asleep upstairs in their cribs.
But he's proven to be so much more than that. Of course no one is perfect and he is no exception. We have our moments. We are far from Ward and The Beav -- or would it be June and a Cleaver daughter? I get annoyed at him, and when I do, I usually figure out out after the fact that it's because I'm missing my mom -- feeling cheated and maybe even a bit resentful. I cool off, calm down and then call him to tell him I'm sorry. He is as understanding and even-keeled, as I've known him to be my whole life. He gets it. He's been cheated, too.
Never in a million years would I have imagined this newfound relationship. I'm not really sure what he has become to me: A mother figure, confidant, babysitter, friend, advisor? Maybe, he's really just my father -- the same one I always had but never got the chance to really know until now.