Although my mom was an avid reader, my dad takes credit for my ability to write. Just like any other 80's baby, "time out" was not a parenting adage adopted in my home. Instead, my father would call ahead to put me on notice that when he got home, I was going to "get the belt". The corporal punishment of the lashes on my backend for whatever crime I committed (there were countless) was far less traumatizing than the anticipation of what was to come. In the '80s parents treated punishment like a reservation at a downtown bistro, only the outcome was tear-streaked faces and a new outlook on oppositional defiance as opposed to a mediocre Yelp review. Unfortunately for my father, I was often undeterred by the sting of leather and he had to get creative with his child-rearing (Please remember this was a pre-Super Nanny world). Anyhow, I am not exactly sure when he started, but at some point, my father would assign me to write essays.
One essay that really resonates in my memory is a task in which my father commanded that I write a five-page paper on "Why I think I Am Smarter than My parents." Rather than sulk off and feel the oppressive weight of the task-at-hand, I articulated the equivalent of an 8 Mile rap-battle diss where I outlined my unrefuted superiority over the people who had given me life. I often wonder what my father thought when he read over my scathing opus rich with pre-teen angst, supporting details, and an iron-clad conclusion that the perpetual joke was on him. It was likely then that my father noticed that although I was probably going to break a lot of rules, I had a gift. He would later go on to assign countless essays to accompany a wide range of defiant deviancy. To this day, he references this instance of the catalyst as my gift with prose.
On the eve of Father's day, I felt compelled to honor my dad not only for being my first muse but also for being a lifetime of things to me. Growing up there was a song by a country singer named Holly Dunn called "Daddy's Hands." The lyrics are as followed:
Daddy's hands were soft and kind when I was cryin' Daddy's hands were hard as steel when I'd done wrong Daddy's hands weren't always gentle but I've come to understand There was always love in daddy's hands
I remember daddy's hands workin' 'til they bled Sacrificed unselfishly just to keep us all fed If I could do things over, I'd live my life again And never take for granted the love in daddy's hands
This song is quintessentially my father. My father is 6'4 and one of the largest human beings I have ever physically encountered. He has historically used his size and iron-clad confidence to impart his will on whatever situation he encountered. My father lives by a code: one in which he created, but one in which he never falters from. One time while stationed in Italy, he hurried over to me as I was playing off by myself outside of our military-issued apartment complex. My dad seemingly appeared out of nowhere and he grabbed me firmly by the arm jolting me out of whatever imaginary state I was in (I was likely 9 or 10 years old). With fury in his eyes and cement in his demeanor, he looked me directly in the eye to summon the immediacy of the situation. "Amanda!" he barked with fire in his eyes. "Go hit that little girl.!" and he pointed to some neighborhood girl standing near my little brother: Lloyd. Stunned, I questioned such an immediate and volatile directive from my father, for which he replied, "she hit your brother and he is forbidden to hit girls." Code. No doubt, a morally ambiguous code, yet it was most certainly one that was rooted somewhere in the past that defined his eye-for-an-eye yet skewed, yet chivalrous thought process. I decked the girl and she ran down the street never to return to our neck-of-the-woods. My brother sat vindicated.
Today, that little story would have likely negated a visit from Child Protective Services or at least a viral tirade from the likes of Nancy Grace if captured on video and gone viral, but those were different times.
However, just like the song, despite the hard-as-nails demeanor, and the slightly unorthodox parenting edicts, my dad was my hero: still is. The man loved me completely. When I was a little girl, my aunts like to tell me my daddy used to buy me a new dress for every occasion. I suppose he can take credit for my shopping addiction in addition to my writing prowess. My dad worked relentlessly, still does. He used to boast, "If you are good with your hands, you will never go hungry, Amanda." I have never once gone hungry. My dad is oddly sentimental and his love for family is unparalleled. Yearly, he attends family reunions in West Virginia and takes my daughter: Ava and he cleans the graves of relatives long-lost. My dad is a "give the shirt off your back" type of guy. We used to travel from North Carolina to Ohio on weekends. If you are even partly cognizant of geography, you would conceptualize that a trip like that is roughly ten hours. Ten hours! We would travel up on Friday, spend Saturday with my grandparents, all to turn around on Sunday to make it back down below the Mason-Dixon. My brother and I would lay cramped in the back seat and pray for the time to elapse faster, but inevitably my father would prolong the already arduous journey by stopping to change flat tires from disabled patrons on the highway. I only now appreciate that sentiment.
As I have aged, I have come to realize that I am a daddy's girl. Not because of the dresses or because of the writing but more because I am just like my dad. Granted, I would not advise my child to right-hook the neighborhood children but I do tell her, like my father used to tell me: "You can be anything you want in this world, You just have to work hard." For the better part of my life, all I have wanted is to make my father proud. It is as though I was seeking some recognition for achievements, feats, or accomplishments. But in reality, my dad loves me because I am his daughter. Although my brother was his namesake: I am the living, breathing reincarnation of Lloyd Bruce Clevenger. I don't take any mess; I live by a code ,and there is nothing I wouldn't do for my family. Thank you, dad. All the best parts of me came from you. Happy Father's Day!