One of my earliest memories takes place at a local BBQ joint with my dad.
He would take me to Dreamland, a restaurant in Mobile, Alabama, the town where I grew up. He’d order ribs and we’d messily eat them, grinning as we talked about things I don’t recall.
And he would do this thing that kind of became like our handshake. He’d put his thumb and forefinger together in the shape of a circle and hold it up to his eye. He’d move his hand from his eye to mine, his large fingers eventually encircling the brown eyes I got from him.
Sometimes I’d mirror his movements, and then we’d move our hands from our eyes closer together until they met in a sort of fist bump.
A few months after Dad was diagnosed with cancer, I asked what his favorite memory with me was. Without hesitation, he put his thumb and forefinger together, held his hand to his eye and said, “This.” He had a ginormous grin on his face.
I think about that all the time. One of my earliest memories. His favorite memory.
He was always very intentional about our time together.
My childhood is filled with memories of him leaving and coming home from work each day. But even though he worked long weeks, he always made time for me and my brother.
In middle school and high school, he took me to get coffee with him. We’d sit in a Starbucks and chat about life or read different books. Sometimes he’d ask me questions about my hopes and dreams. Sometimes I’d ask him questions about his job.
It wasn’t a regular thing, but maybe once every few weeks the two of us would get together. And that turned into him knowing things I liked and things I didn’t like — some Saturday mornings I’d wake up and find my favorite Starbucks drink sitting on my bedside table, courtesy of Dad.
In college, it looked more like him answering my calls and responding to emails.
Since I came to college, I’ve talked to my mom at least once a day. We’re best friends, and a 30-second conversation with her can make my day one million times better.
With my dad, it was different. I’d call him once a week, maybe, for specific advice. And he seemingly always answered the phone. If he didn’t, he’d call back almost immediately.
He’d tell me about work. I’d tell him about my latest English paper. We’d discuss the weather, football and a few other things, and then I’d get to it:
“Dad, will you critique my résumé?”
“Dad, should I follow up with this potential employer?”
“Dad, how does an IRA work?”
“Dad, what’s a good book I can write a paper about for this class I’m in?”
“Dad, I drove into a pole. How do I fix my car?”
There are so many questions in my life right now: What are the next six months going to look like? Will I get a job? What is God leading me to do? Where should I live?
And I find myself longing for the days when my dad and I could sit in Dreamland and eat ribs and giggle about nothing and leave with sticky hands and happy hearts. I miss the days when I could be sad, and all Dad would have to do is our silly little handshake and I’d feel better.
Mostly, I miss calling him. I miss knowing that when I click his name on my phone, he’ll answer and offer me the advice I desperately need.
We can’t rely on our parents forever. But when I reflect on how intentional my dad was with our relationship, I can’t help but be thankful that I could rely on him for 21 years.