The Strength in a Father's Hug


I remember, after the first day of fifth grade, coming home in tears because I just knew that I was going to have a bad year. It started off badly when my teacher insisted on calling me “Priscilla” (my first name) and refused to call me “Michele” (my middle name) because there was already another “Michelle” in the class.

I don’t have many fond memories of that year. The classroom was dark, with the blinds shut over the windows. The teacher herself was drab and drear, always wearing some shade of tan or brown. She never stood in front of the class to teach. She always sat in a one-armed desk-chair, her words falling from her lips with all the enthusiasm of Eeyore. She was such a disappointment after the vivacious, energetic and kind fourth-grade teacher that I had the year before.

Mom spent all afternoon of that first day of fifth grade trying to console me—to no avail. When she came into my room at bedtime and found me still crying, she called in the heavy artillery—Dad. Dad came in, wiped the tears from my face, and said something funny (I don’t remember what). He probably told me about how he “coped” with a bad teacher when he was a kid, and then admonished me not to follow his example. Dad turned tears into laughter and dread into something I could swallow hard and get through. I still remember the tenderness he showed to me that night.

Dads are amazing people. Maybe it’s because they have gained incredible patience from living with their daughters over the years. When I was young, one of my dad’s favorite desserts was Edwards lemon meringue pie. The circumference of the pie shell was lined with great big vanilla wafers, soft and moist from the pie. I loved to eat them, although I did not care for the pie at all. I seriously doubt that my dad ever got a piece of pie that had more than a half a wafer because of my plundering.

Dad had to work really hard for his pistachios, too, after I acquired a taste for them. I would rip through the bag, eating all the easily shelled nuts, leaving the impossible-to-open ones for him.

Even so, every so often, on a Friday, I would open my sack lunch at school and find a treat from the vending machines in the pressroom at The Atlanta Constitution where my dad worked the graveyard shift. He would usually buy a Kit Kat bar for Mom to add to my lunch, and he did at a time when spare change for candy wasn’t easy to come by.

One day I inadvertently kicked out a glass pane from a window in our house. I spent the entire day worrying about how mad my daddy was going to be. I had never done anything like break a window before, so I had no idea what the consequences would be. That evening at dinner, Dad was sitting across from the broken pane. “Gee, I certainly do feel a cold breeze at my feet,” was all that was said.

When I had an automobile accident three weeks after my parents had helped me buy a car my junior year in college, Mom fussed. (The accident was my fault, and she was right, I had been day dreaming.) When I drove into the driveway with my car sporting banged up fender, Dad pointed out that nothing damaged was beyond repair.

When I was a little older, Dad even offered to stand on a milk crate and punch a very tall person who was giving me trouble in the nose. To this day any time someone is creating pains for me, I think of my Dad’s offer (which I know still stands), and it brings a smile to my face.

So when my daughter banged her elbow on the countertop and immediately went running from me into her daddy’s arms, I realized that she, too, has discovered the strength in a father’s hug.

Happy Father’s Day.

© 2009 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

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