It was clearly a man’s world, the hardware store in downtown Old Greenwich. And I felt part honored and part trespasser when I followed my dad through the door . It was always Saturday mornings, part of a ritual my dad kept, probably to keep himself grounded after a week of working in advertising and finances in New York City. I never understood what he did. “Public Relations,” I’d repeat to my friends and watch the same puzzlement cross their faces that I felt . One day my dad told me it was “the art of BS” and I didn’t know what that was either until a few years later. My dad never swore, unless it was late Christmas Eve and he still hadn’t assembled a train track or doll house, then it was muttered just above a whisper which my mom always heard even if she was in another state.
“Bob, stop the Navy talk,” she’d say quietly.
In some ways I was the apple of my dad’s eye. The first daughter, I was less stressful for him to be around. He probably jumped through more hoops for my brothers; sports, Boy Scouts, Indian Guides, building tree forts. But I think he liked the simplicity of my world, the low-demand aspect of our relationship. So I became a part of his trip to the hardware store and I would keep still next him as he bantered with the other men there, wandered down the dark aisles smelling of grease and metal, and leaving always with a purchase that would end up on his workbench in the basement, his man-cave and escape. I can’t explain it, but I felt so safe with my dad in his paint-splattered khaki pants, my little steps trying to keep up with his big ones. Even on vacation he was in hyper drive, running from fishing to swimming to camping to skiing. But Saturday morning trips to the hardware store had a secret kind of rhythm. I saw my dad relax. And he let me be a part of it.
Not too long after that everything changed. My brother Timmy died when I was eight and my father became angry, then quiet and then he was gone. I grew into a young woman, awkwardly leaving my little girl body behind, compounding my father’s uneasiness in my presence. From my perspective, it was my first and worst rejection. A bottle replaced family, career, his very life. Years later, when we were cleaning out the house before it was sold we found a huge cache of little liquor nips stashed above the workbench. Booze had even taken over his secret place of peace.
On Father’s Day I always reminisce. He died almost 32 years ago, but memories flood my mind and I travel back and it always seems the first place I visit is the hardware store, because that was the best place, a place of honor for a little girl that was normally excluded from a man’s world. Maybe because I am so secure in my heavenly Father’s love now, and the apple of His eye, I can afford to revisit the past with grace and understanding. Twenty five years ago, after I had knelt at an altar and asked for God’s forgiveness, He in turn asked me to forgive my father. The deep roots of pain and bitterness were gently removed and a new love, a real and perfect love was formed in my heart. And I am grateful for my dad, because he loved me the very best he could.
I love to watch my son Miles with his two daughters. Even at their young ages, I can tell that they reflect their own beauty and sense of worth, of woman-hood off of their very loving and attentive dad. They’ve already won the battle that so many father-less little girls face. They are secure in their daddy’s love. And when they are grown with wings of their own, they’ll search for a man who loves and honors them the way their father does. But the most important thing my son does for his girls is point them to Jesus, towards a perfect Father, who will love them with an everlasting love, who will guard their hearts and keep them in perfect peace.
I salute all of you dads out there today and the amazing job you do, loving your kids, your wives and your aging crazy moms like me! It is a beautiful, if imperfect, image of God’s love for His very needy children. And I thank you Father God, for Your patience, for Your tender mercies and faithfulness; for being a strong tower when I needed a place to run to, for your word, which has truly been a lamp unto my feet, for the cross which reminds me of who I am without you, and for the secret place, even better than an old hardware store on a lovely Saturday mornin;, a place of refuge, of Your glory and a Father’s perfect love.