On Father’s Day, Remembering a Hero Who Wore Bermuda Shorts
My dad wasn’t a ‘Fathers Knows Best’ kind of father, but he was the only father I had, and I loved him.
I’m a big fan of superhero movies. There is something so compelling about a larger-than-life figure who can run at lightning speed, deflect bullets and save innocent people from the evil machinations of the villain.
When I was growing up, my father was my first glimpse of a hero. Instead of the dramatic garb of movie superheroes, however, he preferred Bermuda shorts and short-sleeved shirts to withstand the harrowing heat of Miami days. He couldn’t scale tall buildings or dodge bullets but was skilled at banishing the monsters that invaded our Miami home.
They weren’t the dragons kids read about in story books, but were instead tropical flying roaches, sometimes called palmetto bugs. In my family, they were known simply as “big bugs.” When one of these creatures entered our humble home, my mother, sister and I went screaming in search of our hero. He would calmly grab a broom and run headlong for the airborne monster, while we whimpered in fear.
The family went to the beach nearly every weekend, where my mom, sister and I bobbed for hours in the delicious warmth of the sea, while my father sat in a folding chair on the shore, wearing a large Panama hat and smoking a Cuban cigar. A casual observer might think he was doing nothing, but he was in fact keeping an eye out for sharks.
He didn’t care much for watching football, and he wasn’t great at home repairs. Still, he did know how to shake loose coconuts from our palm trees and crack them open with a hammer and screwdriver. And he was the only one in the house who wasn’t afraid to scale a ladder to change a light bulb.
He was a quiet man, unlike the dad on “Father Knows Best,” who dispensed timely wisdom to the family. My father was a salesman who struggled to make a living, since he had dropped out of school in sixth grade after his father died to support his mother and siblings. He remained in the background when it came to offering advice, while my mom guided my sister and myself through childhood.
My life changed drastically when I headed off to the University of Florida, where for the first time in my life I was no longer under my father’s roof. I prided myself on being a modern, independent woman, but when one of those blasted big bugs started winging its way toward me in the dead of night, I fervently wished my dad was there to rescue me.
When I called home and he answered, he would ask about the weather and then get my mother to pick up the phone. I learned to keep my political opinions hidden from him, since I was about as far left as you can go, and he leaned to the right. Today, I look back and see he was correct about nearly everything.
My mother died of cancer when I was in graduate school. As I faced the greatest shock of my life, I drew closer to my father. We now had a deep, common bond, which was our love for Gracie, as he called her. Although my mom had always been the letter writer, now he took over, sending letters written on big legal pads and always signing them with a string of x’s and o’s. In one letter, he told me he’d visited her grave and left her a blessed palm on Palm Sunday.
We went on a cruise together a few months after my mom’s death. We both tried to enjoy ourselves, but everywhere we went, her absence stalked us. I found him one evening sitting on a deck chair, weeping for his beloved Gracie. Six months after her death, on the same day he was planning to leave on another cruise, he died.
On Father’s Day I will say a prayer for him and thank him for the times he was, in his own way, a hero to the family. The times he saved us from the attacks of the dreaded big bugs. The times he surveyed the horizon at the beach, keeping an eye out for sharks. He wasn’t a “Fathers Knows Best” kind of father, wearing tailored suits and weaving words of wisdom, but he was the only father I had, and I loved him.