I talked with Catherine, my dad’s ex-girlfriend, the other day. I love talking to her. “Ex-girlfriend” doesn’t begin to describe who she is and, at least as important, who she was to me.
Danny was never very good at showing, or telling, us that he loved us. Well, he actually used to say – over and over again – that he loved us but that that didn’t really matter. What mattered was that he liked us. But with all that, you never really knew that he actually loved you. Or at least I never did. The things he did, the ways he acted, never left me with that sense.
Catherine was the buffer, the grease that eased the rough spots. She was the voice and actions that made me know that I was loved. When I was in middle school I told Danny I needed jeans. He told me I didn’t. Then I found $40 tucked under the pillow on my bed. Catherine. I got into Cornell and Danny asked me how I would get there. A voice came from the other side of the room, “I can’t wait to see Ithaca,” and I knew I had a ride. Catherine. Robbie had outgrown his winter jacket, but Danny thought he could make do for a while longer. But then someone said she needed a winter jacket…oh, and how great because she really liked Robbie’s and it fit her. Catherine.
So, I love reconnecting with her and I love talking with her. I love thanking her for it all. But what she said this time blew me away. I guess it blows me away every time someone says something like this, so I should probably get over it. I should accept it as truth at last. But it still blows me away.
She told me how much Danny loved, and still loves, me. How all he could talk about, when Robbie and I weren’t in the room, was how great we were. How much he loved being our father and being with us. I didn’t know any of this back then. I’ve only learned it very recently.
Many of my father’s friends will tell me how proud he was of us, how much he spoke of us with joy – again, when we weren’t around to hear it. It’s always news to me. I had no idea that Danny brought my college papers into Raoul’s, where he was bartending, to read them to friends and strangers. I had no idea that when my daughter was born, he needed help deciding whether to take a train or rent a car to come see us. He was too flummoxed, couldn’t figure it out on his own. I had no idea that he spoke of us with love. I had no idea that he was glad that Robbie and I ended up living with him after my mom left. I’m glad that all happened – at least in some ways – because I probably wouldn’t know Danny, or love Danny, as much as I do if I hadn’t been forced to spend my teenage years with him. But it’s not something I would have ever asked for…and it’s not something I thought he would have asked for either.
“Your father loves you so much,” my husband said to me after he met Danny for the first time. “No he doesn’t,” I responded. I had no idea.
I have a better idea of it now. I like knowing it for the past, and the present. But there was a time when I really, really didn’t know that he loved me, and even now I have to actively remember.
I actively work to remember, and I actively know that I want my kids to never be surprised when someone tells them, years from now, that I love and loved them. So as much as I let it sink in that Danny loves me, I try and make absolutely certain my kids know that I love them. Every single day.
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