Life With Henry
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
Life With Henry
One of my most vivid memories of my father, Henry, is a short conversation we had when I was twelve years old. I was sitting on the stinging cold concrete floor of the garage listening to the radio and watching him wash his treasured white El Camino in the cool morning air. My favorite Jimi Hendrix song, "Fire," came on, and in as sweet a voice as the awkward tomboy in me could muster, I chimed, "Dad-dy, I want guitar lessons." He didn't even stop buffing his rear hubcap when he shot back, "Your fingers aren't long enough." I watched him as he stood up, took a deep, frustrated breath, reached into the truck bed for his beer, and took a long swig from the brown bottle glittering in the morning sunlight. I thought to myself, my fingers may not be long enough to play guitar, but his were certainly long enough to wrap around that bottle.
At first glance, my dad doesn't seem like the most intimidating guy in the world. Since the seventh grade, I've been taller than he--my 5'10" of velvety Nordic deliciousness inherited from my mom to his 5'5" of sinew and calluses. Our mannerisms are similar, but I'm loose and limber whereas he is more rigid and intense. My brother jokes that if he were to tie our hands behind our backs, neither my dad nor I would be able to form complete sentences because both of us convey so much with our hands. Our physical features are completely different, but genetics has supplied us with some similarities.
One of my dad's most prominent attributes is his ability to talk a person's ear off about any subject that's thrown at him. A former chairperson of the local chamber of commerce, my dad is a master of persuasion. He could sell ice to Eskimos and ketchup Popsicles to women in white gloves. I remember scenes from my childhood. While he pressed the flesh at various civic functions, I'd stand placidly by his side, marveling with pride at how people gathered around him, captivated by his charming delivery. Unfortunately, this gift for persuasion transferred to a gift for making excuses, hence the insult about my stubby fingers, which I later pointed out were inherited from him. His response was "I don't play guitar."
My dad and I have analogous personalities, but our outlooks on life couldn't be any more different. A charming public figure, but an intimidating private one, Dad always seemed to be selfishly wrapped up in himself. My parents divorced when I was 5, and my mom would drop my brother and me off at his house every other weekend. He always seemed bothered that we were there--like we were getting in the way of whatever asinine plans he had at the local bar. His irritation exploded into terrifying tirades when my brother and I would do something wrong, sometimes even little things like not rinsing a glass in the sink or eating too fast. Even though I feigned adolescent ignorance, I knew it was the alcohol that made him act like that. I always felt like a burden, but I rarely spoke up about it. Some weekends were like nightmares. On Sundays, Mom would come puttering up the street in her blue Datsun to rescue me and take me back to my books and friends at home. I'd already be anxiously waiting on the front step with my bags packed.
The "fingers aren't long enough" comment has been my mantra since the moment it fell on my ears. My fingers may not be long enough to play like Jimi Hendrix, but that doesn't stop me from jumping around my room in my underwear and aviator sunglasses, flicking my tongue in the air like Gene Simmons, kicking out the jams and throwing the metal horns to the sky like a bonafide rock god. Who cares if I'm not very good at something? I'm comfortable knowing I'm going to give my all to everything I commit to, and if someone thinks my fingers aren't long enough I'm going to adapt and make it work. Dad and anyone else be damned.
As a teenager, I harbored a lot of anger toward my father because I felt like a little girl cheated out of a doting male role model. It's taken the last five years of my life, through personal reflection, therapy, and talking to my mom, to understand exactly what happened in those younger years with my dad. As charismatic and endearing as he can be, there are still issues that he will probably never work out for himself. There's a piece of my heart that will always belong to my dad, but that doesn't mean I always have to like him.