Songs of fathers and daughters resonate through life

Sorry to be tardy with this Father's Day column. But I figure dads, like moms, deserve more than one measly day to celebrate their parental contributions.

I had planned to write an ode to my father at my riverside cottage last Saturday. But life had other plans. And beloveds have other stories to share.

The better part of Saturday was spent talking with The Professor, who was in California standing vigil over his dying father, his youngest daughter alongside. Three generations, bound together in love.

It's heart-bending duty to ease the crossing of a beloved. But there is no greater service, or blessing, than to offer comfort and companionship to those who helped us come into being. As they slip their ties to this mortal coil, our lives are forever changed.

"We're all just walking each other home," I said to both father and daughter, late in the day, quoting Ram Dass.

No less than three of my dear-hearts have lost their fathers recently. Father's Day can be a bittersweet holiday for those of us who have lost our dads. No more sappy cards to pick or hideous ties to offer our paternal parent. No hugs to give or receive, either.

But loving memories are everlasting. So are lessons learned. Especially from father to daughter. And, I suspect, vice versa.

Dove was born on her father's birthday. He always let her know she was the best present he ever received, she said.

Her adventurous father encouraged her competitive spirit and her intellect.

"He always let me think I was the smartest girl in the class," Dove said.

He also taught her how to worm a fishing hook and clean a fish. He taught her how to sand wood and how to use varnish. She learned to body surf "by hanging on to his back like a little monkey."

"I was about 3 years old, and he would dive under the waves with me hanging on and holding my breath," she said.

Milly's father played the harmonica in the car — never caring that people at stoplights thought he was nuts. He also read books on physics and astronomy for fun. He instilled a passion for equality and justice in his daughter.

"And he taught me to play pool like a pro, with my own cue," she said.

Milly's take-away life lesson from her father? Be yourself and have perspective, she said.

"Stand on Pluto and look back at earth ... we're specks of dust," Milly said.

Nancy's father is still alive. Her minister father, also a civil-rights activist, taught Nancy the importance of critical thinking. And that "it's easier to change laws than hearts and minds," she said.

"He taught me some things are worth risking your life for," Nancy said.

Sue still follows her dad's lessons about the importance of joy and following one's passions.

When opportunity arises, take it. It might not come around again, Sue said.

"Take the tarts when they're passed," her father often said.

Sue's father would harmonize with his children, teaching his daughters how to both carry the melody and sing the supporting parts.

"It's always been something that was amazing," Sue said.

But after her father's passing, more than 18 years ago, the songs came less often.

"It's been hard to come together and sing — too emotional," she said.

Lately, more and more, Sue said, she and her siblings are raising their voices in song — and honoring their father's legacy.

"It makes me happy because it was a gift that he pulled us all together to do that," Sue said.

The song a father sings to his daughter resonates throughout her life.

I've written in years past about my own father's strengths and his trials. Dad's alcoholism was unaddressed, and it had a devastating impact on all his relationships. So, yes, in many ways, I was closer to Mom than to Dad. She was so much easier to love. And to understand. She didn't drink. She didn't yell.

In the soundtrack of my soul, Mom sings the soothing lullabies. Dad's songs stir the blood.

Like Dove's father, mine also taught me to body surf using the piggyback method during summer holidays at Santa Barbara beaches. I can still see his strong hands in the swirling water, capturing crabs as they burrow in the sand. We stand together in rushing tides. I watch for flashes of fins as Dad casts his fishing line far across the waves. The setting sun colors our world a brilliant orange. We don't speak over the sound of the crashing surf. We don't need to that day.

But here's what I'd say if granted one more conversation with my father. A natural-born dreamer, Dad always encouraged me to take risks, and to believe all things are possible. I'd tell him I am grateful for the gifts of wings and wonder.

Most importantly, I'd thank my father for always, always, always letting me know he loved me. Infinitely.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or

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