My favorite exercise and escape is walking on the beach. I run across the highway to the trail and am greeted by the sunset. I squint my eyes, take a deep breath and shake off the day. This is my peace. My body quickly finds its rhythm, its pace, and my legs lead the way, allowing my mind to wander.
I think of my parents everyday, on every walk. I can see my mom and I strolling along the shore, usually in winter, picking up sea glass, sand dollars, when we could find them, and unusual rocks and shells. She had a knack for finding unique treasures with interesting textures and colors. I loved that quality in her . . .to find beauty where no one else could, when it wasn’t obvious. I see my dad and I running on the trail together. His pace always pushed me, until he was nearly sixty and then he struggled to keep up with me. I remember one evening we ended the run at his house. As we came through the door, he said to my mom, “Judy, it’s finally happened, I can’t keep up with my kids.” It made me a little sad, so I made a point to slow down. Eventually our runs became walks. Either way, our time on the trail always included discussions of history, politics, current events, books, movies, and music. He had an unbelievable depth of knowledge. How I miss those walks and talks.
As I channel surfed through the memories, one caught my attention, a favorite photograph . . . my dad holding my sleeping ten month old son. I paused here and allowed a story to unfold. My mom took the picture during one of our trips to my parents’ home in Oregon. She skillfully and beautifully captured the tenderness of the moment, a tenderness I never imagined existed in my dad, until I had a tiny crisis a year before this picture was taken. This was long before I appreciated my parents’ unique gifts and the time I spent with them. A little shake up in my life compelled me to grow, to learn and to appreciate. . . . I was 17 and I was pregnant.
By today’s standards, with Reality TV making teenage moms celebrities, a pregnant teenager is not a big deal. However, in my case it was 1978 and my dad was going to be pissed! I couldn’t imagine telling him that his 17-year-old daughter, star student, overachiever, when I ask you to jump, you say “how high?”, . . . yeah, that daughter. . . . WAS PREGNANT. Anyone who knew my dad could understand the magnitude of this deed. My dad told me what to do, when to do it and how to do it. To give you an idea of his control, he required all his children to graduate high school in three years. He made our class schedules, always a full load. We took summer school and night classes at the junior college in order to complete the course work on time. I remember a confused college student asking me in class one night, “How old are you anyway?” I was 15! I recall being exasperated by the question, “Why is your dad making you graduate in 3 years?” He had a plan . . . he wanted us to get busy with college as soon as humanly possible. Our career paths were carved in stone by the time we graduated.
The plan started out great! I turned 17 just before starting my first year of college. I had a part-time job, against my dad’s wishes, but was allowed to keep it if my grades didn’t suffer (Cs were NEVER allowed). I did my part, got good grades and my dad was happy, and proud. However, I think he may have been paying too much attention to the plan. He didn’t notice that I was spending a lot of time with my boyfriend of nearly three years. As strict as my parents were, and as busy as my schedule was, I still managed to have a pretty active social life, including finding a time and a place to have sex. We thought we were so careful. Thinking you are careful and being careful are two different things. We learned that the hard way. Honestly, it’s surprising that I didn’t get pregnant sooner. Now that it was later, I was late . . . and definitely pregnant. I was pretty sure a pregnant teenager was not a part of my dad’s plan.
How the hell was I going to tell my parents? After all, I had spent the better part of 17 years doing my best to please them and make them proud AND did a good job, never giving them a moment’s worry. I ruminated over the possible consequences, would I be kicked out of the house, be disowned, be forced to put the baby up for adoption, and the list goes on. But, I was mostly sad, imagining my dad’s disappointment. The stranger part of all of this was that I didn’t see being pregnant as the problem at all. I was never afraid of having a baby or being a mom. All my fear was wrapped up in the telling, my parents’ reaction, and the disappointment.
As my belly grew from sexy midriff to oh my God she’s pregnant, so did my level of the anxiety. Entering my second trimester, I still managed to keep my pregnancy a secret! And then . . . without fanfare or drama, it happened, completely unexpected and not at all how I had imagined. My mom and I were alone in the kitchen, I think unloading the dishwasher, and she just asked me, “Are you pregnant?” She didn’t bat an eye, wasn’t mad or sad. She just asked. A quiet and quivering yes made its way to the space between us. The relief I felt was overwhelming. Some how in that very difficult moment she graciously accepted what was to be our new reality. She was wise and calm. My mom was 38.
I prayed that she would tell my dad, but she wasn’t volunteering. My boyfriend was on his way over and there was no way to send out a warning text since we were years away from that technology. Once he arrived it didn’t take him long to figure out what had transpired. There we were, the three of us, standing in the dim kitchen light. Now what? My dad had been in his den, out of earshot, all along. My mom didn’t waste any time. She told my boyfriend that he had to take responsibility and tell my dad, man to man, that I was pregnant. I felt awful for him. But, I’m not going to lie. . . . I was so glad it was him and not me.
I watched him walk into the den, and I walked upstairs to my bedroom. I couldn’t bear to eavesdrop. I stood in my closet, for what seemed like an eternity, pushed around the hangers and looked at the clothes that no longer fit me. My heart was racing, pounding in my chest. I wanted the earth to swallow me whole. And then I heard them, my dad’s footsteps coming up the stairs. They were hurried, but light. Still in my closet, I turned, already crying, and there he was. Arms around me in an instant, holding me close, so tight, and so quickly that my arms were caught against my chest, His voice was low and calm, “I’ll bet you were worried, scared.” My face was buried in his chest and I shook my head in agreement. My dad was kind and understanding, a side of him I had not seen, and again, completely unexpected.
My parents moved to Oregon before my son was born. I remember the morning they left, my husband and I now lived in the home they were leaving behind. We had said our goodbyes the night before, they would be leaving before dawn. I woke to hear them shuffling around the house. My mom and dad came in my bedroom, separately, each kissing me on the forehead. Then the front door gently closed and I quietly cried. It was time for me to make my own plan.
In my first year as a mom, I came to appreciate my parents in ways that I never imagined. My dad continued to be my toughest critic, and at every chance tried to impose his will. But now, I welcomed and respected his advice. My mom and I were always close and our relationship strong, but our bond was strengthened by the shared experience of motherhood. She was quite simply, an amazing mom.
When I came home from my walk, I immediately went to my closet, dug around a bit, and found the photograph. It’s posted here. I see my dad and I remember so vividly the tenderness he shared with me the year before, and so clearly in this photograph with my son. I can also see my mom’s handy work, how beautifully she captured the essence of the man she knew and loved, the man his children didn’t always see back then. I am grateful that over the years my relationship with my dad continued to evolve. I don’t know a greater man.
After seven years in Oregon my parents moved back to California. We spent many, many more years sharing time on the beach and making beautiful memories. How lucky am I?