Why It’s Never Too Late for Daddy Stories


photo credit: Han Shot First via photopin cc
photo credit: Han Shot First via photopin cc

It’s a stall tactic, I know.

“Tell me a story, daddy.” Five words. Sometimes worth 45 minutes. It pushes back bedtime, yes, but it’s also engagement with my face, not a screen. Their pop, not an app.

I know this. We don’t always appreciate our dads’ stories, sacred, profane and otherwise. Until that day we can’t hear them anymore.

What we learn from dad stories is profound.

I know about the brother my dad never met, Ismael, who died in a car wreck. I know about my dad’s close encounter with the military recruiting office during the Vietnam War.

I know that my dad, a skinny kid with sideburns, tried out for the Robertson (N.M.) Cardinals High football team, and lasted one day. One hit. A hit that knocked the snot out of him.

Through those stories, I know about my grandparents, who died before I was born.

photo credit: Lotus Carroll via photopin cc
photo credit: Lotus Carroll via photopin cc

I know that they died in a car accident involving a train. I know that no one knows for sure how it happened, but the bumper on my grandpa’s car hooked to a moving train as they waited at the crossing.

Grandma must have told grandpa to back up a little, some family members say. You’re too close. Maybe he put the car in drive instead of reverse. Who knows?

I know that my uncle ran a gas station in New Mexico. On summer days, the New Mexico sun bakes everything its rays can reach. Weary travelers found their way into his store, looking for a brand of soda called Fresca.

Todos estan frescas!” he’d say. They’re all fresca. Because in Spanish, fresca means “cold.” All the drinks – Coke, Nehi, Fresca – were cold. Because, of course.

I know my dad and his brothers and sisters were unimaginative when it came to pet names. When a black dog came around, he was Blackie. A brown dog, Brownie. A white dog … you get the picture.

Everyday life. A few profound moments. My dad told me about a lot in words, and deeds. More than appears on this page. Because that’s the other part – the filter. The editor. What do I remember, and what do I forget? Is it a conscious decision?

What do I tell again to my kids, and what parts do I embellish?

Embellish is the relish. It’s how a snow flurry becomes a blizzard. How as 20-foot jumpshot becomes a half-court heave. How that everyday cheerleader became cheer captain. Because now, it’s my turn.

It’s my turn when kids have gone into extra time for bedtime, dragged their feet and taken side roads on their way to going to bed.

MEP
MEP

It’s my turn when we’re in the car and a Simon and Garfunkel song comes on. And it takes me back to being 7. Maybe on a contemplative on a Sunday night in my grandma’s backyard. Long after the NFL games are over and the tortillas are no longer hot.

I use every ray of sunshine to throw a white plastic football on the roof. I make pretend I’m Steve Largent or Pat Tilley or Lydell Mitchell making that game-changing grab. Everyday life.

Or maybe it’s the Independence Day when my mom went inside to answer the phone and came out in tears. “Junior’s son drowned in New Mexico,” she said with her hand over her mouth. Losing a cousin my age had such a profound impact on every year of my life since that day. I didn’t understand why there were fireworks that night still. With every birthday and milestone, Raymond is on my mind.

It’s camping trips so high in the Rockies the radio wouldn’t tune and the trees wouldn’t grow. It’s my sister, in trouble, when she played the rhyme game with the word “tuck.” It’s me, writing that same bad word on a worksheet for school to make my classmates laugh.

(Who knew my parents could still see it, even after I’d erased it and rubbed out the spot with pencil?)

It’s my first pet, my first crush. It’s the trouble my sister and I got into, and how my mom woke us up for school. It’s standing up to a bully in sixth grade, taking a dive when he punched me.

And meeting the girl who became my first kiss when she helped me to the office.

It’s stories about the day they were born and how I met their mother. It’s my many failures on the athletics field before they came along and made things right. It’s how my grandma treated me with such kindness.

And still it evolves. They want to know about fights I got into with my sister. (One that explains a scar on her chin, another that involved a punch to my belly and her slipping on a slice of processed cheese.)

My dad, in a Broncos shirt I still have, holding Elise.
My dad, in a Broncos shirt I still have, holding Elise.

They haven’t asked yet about the day my father died. Or how it felt to see him in the hospital. Or how it feels to lose a job or a dear friend. How I’ve coped with a broken heart or a broken hand or a broken handle on life.

Maybe they’ll never ask those things. Maybe they will. I have to remember, too, it’s not just the tales we dads tell them that make up this tapestry. It’s the ones we create with them.

On a lakeshore. On the pitch in the waning moments of a crushing defeat. Couchside, when puke bugs hold us down for the count and the only thing left to save us is Powerade and Netflix binge sessions on Bones.

My dad stories will also be those untold, only lived. When I’ve lost my cool or found my groove. They’re watching, these girls. And formulating the stories.

And if they want to stay up late and talk about it?

Daddy’s wide awake.

# # #

This post by Kitt Crescendo inspired this post.

stories quote

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61 thoughts on “Why It’s Never Too Late for Daddy Stories

  1. Please keep telling them. Your kids will take it all in whether they express it or not. Your words are so true that we can’t truly appreciate the stories until we can’t hear them, anymore. I would give anything to hear one more story from my dad.

    1. I’m not sure I could stop. It all goes in – what sticks around? Time will tell. I can think of 17 things I’d love to ask my dad, too, given the chance. Just one more day.

      Thanks. And I know how you feel!

  2. Wow. I think my emotions ran the gamut in this post.

    It really got me thinking too. About how many stories I still don’t know about my dad or grandparents or family; laughing as I remember ones about my sister and me growing up; sad as I wonder who will keep my stories going after I’m gone or if I’ll just be forgotten.

    1. Thanks Cheryl. They definitely did when I wrote it!

      I think the best thing we can do is ask, and tell, whenever we can. What sticks? We won’t be around to find out. It’ll have to be part of our legacy.

  3. Very interesting and funny. I enjoyed a lot trying to remember my own those childish days of 1960s. But, I am very sorry that I could not remember how my mother looked like in actual. Only two of her portraits drawn by my father could I remember, that too vaguely. She expired when I was 13 or 14 perhaps in 1964 because of ill health and then my father expired in 1971 when I was in College. Some memories are okay while others pinch you a lot.

    1. Thanks! And thank you for sharing your story, too. Do you remember more of your mom by feelings than anything? I had an aunt like that. She and my uncle divorced when I was young. I remember her through feelings. I just remember her being very loving. It gave me an image as vivid as a portrait.

      “Some memories are okay while others pinch you a lot.” I couldn’t agree more. The good seems to be worth those that pinch though, doesn’t it?

    1. Thanks TP. This one was easy, because these are always on my mind! Sometimes the stories happen when we should be doing something else, like homework, or cleaning up after lunch, and sometimes, it’s in the car. I’m grateful for every one.

    1. Thanks Holly. I just had to go with the memories that came to me in the moment, and 17 more appear right after I hit ‘publish.’ They’re part of the story I tell here, too, so it works both ways.

  4. this is wonderful and i loved the stories too. just go with your heart when telling your daughters your own and you will know what to say and how to do it. fantastic post.

  5. What can I say as tears are dripping from eyes after reading this. Amazing Eli and I am just starting now to get questions from the girls about people and things before them. And you are right totally try my best too to share and tell my story to them.

    1. Wow, thanks Janine. This storytelling part of parenthood is the fun part. Just, the questions. They’re what keep me busy on Fridays, these questions the girls ask.

      It’s just the conversation. Beautiful things happen when the conversation starts.

  6. Oh I adore this…you are so right about taking the time to tell (embellish) our stories. We forget in the I HAVE TO DO THIS NOW moment that our kids love to hear about our lives, it might take forever for them to appreciate it but we shouldn’t stop sharing. Thanks for the reminder

    1. Thanks Kerri. I have a rule that if the kids talk to me, I look away from the screen. No matter what. I was later than I could have been finishing that post because a 9-year-old kid wanted me to snuggle with her at bed time.

      Best choice I made all day.

  7. I wish I had more stories about my father. Oddly, or not so oddly given my college major, I remember him correcting my grammar. “Also. It’s also. Not even.”
    I remember having a nightmare and winding up in his arms.
    Scarlet asked me about him recently and I wondered if it was time to tell her that the grandfather she knows and loves, Poppa Don, is only part of the story, although a pretty big part. And that also, not even, there’s someone else who helps shape the lives of all of us, even still.

    1. I do too, Tamara. I’ve remembered a lot more than I thought I did, just from writing this post. And a dad’s arms – that’s just where you should go when you’re a little girl with nightmares.

      The power went out one night for just an hour, and Grace slept in my arms that night, even after the power came back on. I wasn’t going to tell her.

      That’s going to be an interesting conversation. You’ll be surprised the perspective a small child can bring to that conversation. Soon after my dad died, we took a trip to Hershey, Pa.

      On the drive home, we had to go through Durham, N.C., where my dad died, at Duke Hospital. Marie, just 3, started telling a story about how PopPop was in Heaven, right then. She said he had a big chair and a basket full of sippy cups next to him whenever you wanted one.

      Scarlet’s your dad’s legacy, just as you are. When the time’s right, you’ll do a stellar job of introducing her to him.

    1. Thank you! Just tonight, I sat outside in a rocking chair with Grace as the sun went down. We stayed out until the mosquitoes made us come in. Love it.

      And I love the photo with your retirement post today!

  8. Love it – I agree – never pass up a chance to just talk with (not at like I do way to often!) our kids!!! My stories are all more recent although now that the boys are older I’ve told them some about my younger days – not always happy stories.
    I wouldn’t give up all the stories that my grandparents told me for anything – I hope that even when I’m old I can still remember them!!

    1. That’s what I’ll miss this summer not taking Elise to school – the drive-time convo. And sometimes they want the not-happy stories, which gives a good balance.

      I sometimes think I just need to write these stories down. At least my grandkids can look back on this blog – well, if blogging’s even around then.

  9. I think family stories are a crucial part of children growing up Eli, it’s history and cautionary tales all rolled into one. Although the relationship between myself and my father wasn’t what you could call ordinary, I loved his stories about him as a boy and the things that he got up to. Most of them would see him in court these days. There were also stories about his father and ones handed down from my great, great, great grandfather, the man they nicknamed Samson because of his great strength. It goes on and now it’s all stopped with me. My son didn’t seem interested in them and he’s estranged from his children. So all I have is my wife’s grandchildren and there’s no relevance for them in my tales. I have them though and I guess I’m lucky for that. A top post Mate, excellent even.
    Cheers
    Laurie.

    1. You’re right, Laur, it’s like a users guide, isn’t it? And history. And a sense for how things have changed, and how things have stayed the same.

      And those fifth- and sixth-generation stories? We have a responsibility to keep those moving, too. I think you have underestimated the value of those stories in your wife’s grandchildren – and definitely don’t forget how much all your stories mean to us, your readers.

      Thanks, mate.

      1. Yes you have highlighted the essence of stories within the family Eli, a user’s guide. The early stories are important too. Maybe the g/children listen, I’m not sure but I know I have a big family of readers.
        Cheers
        Laurie.

      1. My eldest grandson started it but then switched to grandmom. My daughter liked it and encouaged her two to use it. I love it and hubby is Dad dad.

  10. Beautiful! This is probably my favorite Coach Daddy post! Thank you for sharing so many family stories. I am pretty sure some of the questions they haven’t asked yet, are in their minds, and when the time is right, they are going to ask them.
    C’s favorite “back then stories” – and as a 5.5 year old, there are no really OLD stories – are about him as a baby and me as a kid when I messed up. Not that there are many of them.

    1. Thanks Tamara. Really, your favorite? These stories just poured out, and it was an easy post to write because of that. And 33 came to mind after I hit publish.

      As you know, I’m ready for those questions.

      Why do the kids love the stories about how we messed up? It always ends a mess, too. Not nice and tidy like on Suite Life.

  11. I love this! My Dad tells the best stories and I’m so glad I have them in my memory. I hope my girls will remember and appreciate the stories their daddy shares with them.

  12. This was an incredibly sweet post! I love the idea of Daddy Stories. I always kind of had to pry information out of my Dad, but my Mom did a great job telling me about her life. Once she jokingly told me that my Dad was a pirate when they first met, and I believed it for something like 5 years. ha!

  13. You have an incredible memory. My dad didn’t spend time telling stories. I know a few tidbits of information gathered from family gettogethers. But I don’t have the WHOLE story. Maybe that should be my next (eventually left unfinished) project. Collecting the stories.

    1. And yet, where are my car keys?

      A dad doesn’t often get an audience, so when he has one, he has to strike. I know some of the stories I know are from my uncles and aunt, too.

      It’s so hard to have the whole story. My kids don’t have mine. I doubt they ever will. But I hope they’ll take enough to understand where all the love comes from.

  14. Wow! I’m so honored that my post inspired such a beautiful and powerful post. Your children are so lucky to have such a thoughtful, engaged father. I know those stories will help shape them into the kind of people who understand the power of words like love and kindness and empathy. They’ll also grow to appreciate all the people you’ve introduced them to who’ve long side passed, but remain alive through the memories you’ve shared. Loved your post.

    1. I’m honored to have you visit, Kitt. Your post resonated with me and brought back a lot of memories of my dad. It also made me look at the way I pass our own history to my kids.

      I think at some ages, thoughtful and engaged is a hindrance for a dad, but it is definitely worth it! And it’s the only way they’ll ever know my dad, through stories.

      Loved your post, too, and I look forward to reading more. The one you have up now is powerful. (anyone reading this should click your blog link on this message). Can’t wait to leave a comment.

  15. I get teased a lot for being such a fangirl: movies, books, comics….. but they all have one great thing in common: The Story. From my grandfather’s knee, to grandma’s baking table to tales and songs around the bonfire and mighty deeds discussed in locker rooms; I’ve always been about the stories. I think it’s our oldest tradition. That thing which not only bonds us in our shared history, but which also helps sometimes step outside ourselves. I think it’s the best thing I can pass on to my kids. The story of me, them, us….and everything in between.

    1. It’s all about the story, Ror. Isn’t it why we do what we do? A blog is just a story with page hits. How many times has a post taken you somewhere you’d never have expected – as a reader or as a writer?

      The story of you becomes part of the story of them. And that’s how we live on forever, Roe.

  16. Those old stories are the fabric of our lives. It’s important for kids to know their history. Every once in a while, I make albums and include all the stories with the pictures. My kids treasure those. And the naming thing…that cracked me up, because my oldest, when he was little, named everything by color and size. Black bear, little bear, Brown bear…he never deviated. And growing up, we had a dog named Puppy.

    1. Even if the accuracy gets washed out a little, they still endure, right? I wish I knew more about my history. Have you ever written about those albums? I’d love to read that.

      I think when you name with that convention, it’s like inventory, right? Years from now, Little Bear will be easier to remember than, say, one named Tina, for instance.

  17. My nighttime moments are often filled with the soundtrack of my daughter’s sweet voice saying, “Just one more story, mommy” over and over and over. I take her requests seriously — every single time — because these stories — these simple truths — that I pass down to her will be the one she passes on to those who will love her one day just as I love her.

    But as much as I love those moments, the ones I think I treasure even more are the ones that I overhear when my dad visits and assumes my role as master bedtime storyteller. I often sit outside her room as the two of them talk, listening as my father tells her stories of when I was a little girl… Just one more, Grandpy, just one more… please?

    Yes, dad, please…just one more…tell me one more, tell me five, tell me all of them. For I, too, want to remember what I was like, so I can keep trying to find my way back to that little girl — not the one you hold now, but the one you held then, the one whose bones want to remember what it was like to be held by someone who loved me enough, by someone who wanted me to be a part of their world.

    The world you are creating for your daughters through your words and stories surely shines brighter than any star in their night skies.

    1. I love your comments.

      it’s so worth a delayed bedtime to have that extra story with a child. They can’t stay up forever; and they won’t ask for more stories forever, either. To be little enough to scoop up, to make feel safe and loved, and as you want to remember what you were like, I too want my girls to carry these memories, of dad staying up, holding them at night, singing to them, telling stories.

      Thanks for the kind words about the world I’m creating for my girls. you should know all about it … you’re creating and navigating through something absolutely spectacular with Mighty Z. I can’t figure out who’s luckier.

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