My dad was not known for conversing with his children as we were growing up. I had my first real conversation with him, meaning he wasn’t yelling at me, when I was 17-years-old. We drove to Lake Erie for a day trip, about fifty miles from our home in Ohio. It was hot and humid and he complained to me that he was sweating. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.
I had an arms-length relationship with my dad when I was young. It wasn’t until I got to middle age that I experienced a tender moment with my Dad that I will treasure forever.
I blessed my parents with two beautiful grandchildren. We visited often when the kids were small. After they were grown, they didn’t accompany us because of jobs, school and the path of their own adult lives. My parents, husband and I sat with one another, middle-aged and old-aged, lamenting the state of politics and society.
My parents moved from Ohio to Prescott, Arizona after they retired. My husband and I drove across the desert to visit them often. We enjoyed “happy hour” and then an elegant dinner at the charming old-west style Hassayampa Inn that was nestled in the town square.
One lovely summer evening, with a cool mountain breeze sifting through the dry Arizona air, my dad brought out a bottle of cognac that he got from his dad, more than fifty years earlier. We were relaxing after a wonderful dinner and the French brandy was a perfect end to the evening. Dad saved it for more than half a century, waiting for the right moment to share it.
I knew my dad had a very distant relationship with his own father. My parents packed up the kids and drove to Wisconsin to visit our grandparents about once a year. Grandpa was stern, almost menacing, with eyebrows that literally knit together in a frown. I knew, even as a child, that he struggled to be a patient grandpa to his son’s progeny.
Fifty years later, we sat in my parent’s spacious living room and watched the weathered mountains fade from azure blue to steel gray and then slowly blend with the star splashed western sky. The conversation was light; we were full of great food and wine, enjoying our leisure. When Dad brought out the cognac, he told us how old it was and that he had saved it for a special occasion.
The middle child of five, I suddenly became an honored guest. He carefully poured the cognac and graciously handed the glass to me. He was gentle, not menacing. His manner was genteel, not harsh.
We shared a father/daughter moment that I don’t think either of us expected to be so tender. I knew as I took the stemmed glass, delicately etched with long stemmed roses, that my dad expressed his feelings in the best way he knew how. It was good enough.
Dad has been gone for almost 17 years. I still miss buying the exact same polo shirt that I got for him every year. My gift was accompanied by a Father’s Day greeting card that was always humorous, never sentimental. The memory of the evening when he chose to share the cognac with me spoke to both of us in a nonverbal, but very powerful, way that I shall always cherish.
Kathleen Vallee Stein