My dad came from a very difficult family, and he himself was not easy to please. I was born when he was 40 and I guess times were different. I know he loved me, but feeling someone loves you is different but almost more important than knowing.
We were living in New York when my parents decided to divorce. My mother and I had to move to Florida because the only grounds for divorce in New York were adultery. I was five years old.
Maybe because of my mother, giving gifts has always been joyful for me. I was able to keep that joy despite my father’s comments. For Mother’s Day at school, we made pins from colored toothpicks glued together. Over the toothpicks we glued alphabet noodles spelling M-O-T-H-E-R. Even though her father was in the jewelry business and she had great jewelry, she wore that pin. She also kept it for many years.
It was not easy to find gifts for my father. He was a workaholic and did not have hobbies. I gave him the usual gifts and would find them in the back of a drawer. Thus, I was thrilled when I thought of something special he would like. He always used a shoehorn to put on his shoes. If he was away or for some reason didn’t have a shoehorn, he would use an eye glass case or a folded up envelope to get into his shoes.
I was delighted when I saw a “footlong shoehorn.” It had a long stick attached so one would not have to bend over to get into one’s shoes. What a great idea for anyone! Instead of a “thank you, what a thoughtful gift,” his comment was “What, do you think I am getting old?”
Gary and I were engaged in December, 1969. I now had a man in my life who appreciated me and he would be the recipient of my love and thoughtfulness. For Valentine’s Day, I went down to Washington D.C. to visit my fiancé. I called my mother to wish her a happy day. She said she had just spoken to my father on the phone, probably about the impending wedding. She started the conversation wishing him Happy Valentine’s Day. He replied, “Likewise. I got wishes from my office staff but nothing from my daughter.”
My mother said, “Come up with a reason why you were late. Why don’t you just say because you were in D.C.”
At the time, liquor and cigarettes were cheaper in Washington (probably because of taxes) and my father always appreciated a bargain. I knew my father was a Scotch drinker, but I bought a bottle of Old Grand Dad bourbon. On the many places on the label where it said “Old” I covered up the word with a red paper heart. On each heart I wrote something like 2/14/1969 or I Love U. Thus, the label read “Grand Dad.”
At work, my father kept liquor in the office for business purposes. What was his comment when I gave him his special gift that I had spent so much time creating?
“Don’t you know I buy liquor by the case?”
Read more by Ada Mark Strausberg.