[A posthumous tribute I wrote on Dad’s 90th birthday]
As a very little girl, I used to love playing in a closet just off the back stairs. If I closed the door, I felt alone in a house otherwise teeming with people but safe in a world full of potential adventure and hidden treasures: hundreds of worn paperbacks, my mother’s colored array of high-heeled shoes, and stylish hats in hatboxes from another era.
Exploring in the closet one day, I played with the door’s heavy, brass lock and accidentally locked myself in. Suddenly, I didn’t feel safe anymore. My fun and adventure quickly turned to fear and isolation—feelings mostly foreign to me as a child. Even those dearest to me couldn’t help me escape. My mother couldn’t explain how to unlatch the lock, my brothers couldn’t unlock it from the outside, and my sisters couldn’t comfort me with their kind words.
Then my dad happened along.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t open the lock either at first, but, when I quieted down from crying, I could hear him saying some reassuring words. Then, unexpectedly, he pushed a shiny penny under the door, an awkward sort of attempt to comfort me. To me, the coin was more than a penny; it was a connection to my father who wanted to rescue me from my fears and somehow express his love.
Most fathers I know seem to have a powerful need to protect their daughters, to keep them from the meanness and dangers in the world. To shelter them, they often think and act irrationally. This protectiveness is not reserved for little girls either. Think of Steve Martin in Father of the Bride. With his now-grown daughter’s wedding fast approaching, he acts more and more absurdly, to the point of hilarity. One of the funniest scenes is when Martin’s fierce sense of protection for his daughter drives him to extremes. He snoops around the future in-laws’ house, examining prescriptions and bankbooks, and ends up in the swimming pool.
Although I was the last of his six daughters, he hadn’t run out of fatherly love and protection when I came along, and he made a conscious effort to pass on that protective concern to my brothers. He even had them role-play what to do when a woman was in danger. Dad made me feel safe as a child and continued to make me feel safe as an adult through his love, laughter, and convictions.
My mom tells me that as a very young child I was showered with physical affection from Dad. As a teenager, I also was often smothered by Dad’s whisker kisses and frequently treated to his famous “airplane rides.” Standing at all of 5’4,” he would swing me up on to his shoulders and twirl me around and around. He teased and tickled; he bragged and built me up. In short, he made me believe I could do or be anything I wanted to. If that’s not love, what is?
When Dad laughed, I felt all was right with the world. I used to love hearing him watch “Hogan’s Heroes,” his favorite T.V. show because he would laugh himself silly. Just the sound of his laughter could instantly dispel my worries and dwarf the world’s dangers. Just for fun, sometimes my brothers and I would launch “tickle attacks” on Dad. For my brothers, the physical conquest was probably the sport, but for me hearing him laugh meant victory.
My father’s firm convictions were legendary. He himself often admitted that he had “firm-fixed ideas, many of which [were] false.” Right or wrong, though, his strong beliefs gave me confidence and assurance, especially when I would hear him bear witness of God. Such a testimony gave me a deep sense of security, knowing that some things never change. Wise fathers know they can’t truly protect their children from every danger in the world. So, instead, they give them the ability to navigate life with their own courage and conviction. Such was the kind of protection my dad gave to me. On the morning of my wedding day, Dad asked if I would drive with him to the temple so the two of us could talk alone. Interestingly, his last words of counsel to me as a single woman had to do with protecting me and my future family from spiritual dangers.
On September 11, 2001, the world changed forever. Terrorists blew up the Twin Towers in New York City, and Americans began to know fear like never before. Almost instantly, people everywhere sought the shelter of precious family relationships, many of which had been ignored or neglected. Since that horrific day, we’ve been reminded that the world is no longer a safe place. Every time we board an airplane, our possessions and persons are scanned and radio broadcasts periodically report on unexplained “orange” and “red” alerts.
Almost one year later, on September 1, 2002, my father passed away. That was the day my world changed forever. Although I didn’t feel fear, I lost some of the security of my childhood and the safety of my father’s love.
Fortunately, much of Dad lives on in his posterity. Many carry his love for life, sense of humor, and courageous convictions. But I still miss him, and, until I see him again, I will continue to miss his kisses, his laughter, his approbation, and especially his adoration.
Every once in a while, I have a moment or a memory that is like getting my own “penny from heaven,” reminding me that Dad is just on the other side trying to protect me and trying to tell me he loves me.
I'm the twelfth of 13 children. I was born into a poor family living in a big house on top of a hill in South Pasadena, California. We called it Tanner Manor, and these are my stories of growing up there.