My Daddy Was A Genius!
Constance E. Sibrava
I suppose that every little girl thinks her daddy is a genius; however, in the case of my father, he absolutely WAS a genius! My father could build or repair anything. He was an avid photographer. He loved math and science (an aptitude I did not inherit, much to his dismay). He was a gourmet cook. He built kites out of the comic section each March. He had an amazing sense of direction. He could fly glider planes.
My father was full of “Daddyisms.” When he needed to use the restroom, he would say he was “going to see a man about a horse.” When I asked a question which he felt was too nosey, he would say, “That comes under the heading of none of your business!” When I was unable to do something that he needed to be done, he would murmur, “Send an idiot to do something….do it yourself!” It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that my father was actually calling ME an idiot at those times!
We were a well-traveled family. Living in Northern California, there was so much to see; the mountains, the beach, the redwoods. Once a year, we would get all bundled up and take a ride to “the snow.” There were always day trips to exciting places. My father loved to buy and sell cars, so it was not unusual for us to hear a horn blowing outside our house. We would all go running out to find our father in a “new” car. He would say, “Get in. We’re going for a ride!” My mother would sigh. Another new car.
My father was 37 years old when I was born and I know (and always knew) that I was the favorite out of all of us…my two older sisters and me. If my father and mother decided to try for a third child so that they could possibly have a boy, someone to pass on the family name, I never knew it. My father loved having daughters. He loved to comb out our long hair after our baths. I remember the year that he engraved our new pink brushes with our names on them for Easter. Even though we were Jewish and had absolutely no idea what Easter was all about, my father always took us shopping for white patent leather shoes and beautiful dresses. We always had frilly petticoats and each Sunday night he would polish our saddle shoes. He insisted that we wear white saddle shoes, even when no one else at school wore them. “They give your feet the best support!”
My father was a weak man and a tortured one. The story goes that when he was a young man, he and some friends went drinking one night. On their way home, the car which my father was driving (while drunk) was involved in an accident and my father alone survived. He never got over it.
I remember when things began to change. My sister was learning to play the clarinet and one night my father decided to “give her a lesson.” He took the clarinet and started blowing into it. Horrible, ear piercing squeaks came out of the clarinet. His eyes were huge in his head as he tried to push the air into the instrument. We all laughed so hard that we cried. My mother was not laughing.
Eventually, my father was no longer funny. He became mean and violent at night. Although he never drank in our home, he spent plenty of time (and money) at the local bars. My mother would beg him to take me with him. She thought that if I were with him, he would come home sooner. Instead, I was left sitting in his car, for hours at a time, while he sat at whatever bar he stopped at. It was during those times that I wrote stories in my head and made up songs. I also “learned to drive” while sitting alone in the car. I have scars from the cigarette lighter burns I sustained while looking for something to occupy my time. Yet, each time he left the house, I was more than willing to go with him. I loved to be with him, even if that meant that I would spend most of the time sitting alone in the cold, dark car with absolutely nothing to do.
He began to go from job to job until there was no job at all. There was constant bickering between him and my mother. There were bounced checks and sleepless nights. There was yelling. He stopped reading in his chair at night. He began coming home later and later. My mother would stand in the kitchen, looking out the front window with only the light of her cigarette glowing in the dark…waiting.
When I was in the third grade, disaster struck our family. My mother became ill. She started having horrible, disabling headaches. She was unable to work. She no longer watched General Hospital with me in the afternoon after school. She didn’t wear her high heels anymore. The doctors told her that she had sinus problems. Then the doctors told her that she was under too much stress. The doctors decided she needed glasses. Finally, the doctors told her the horrible news. My mother had a brain tumor.
For the next two years, my mother was in and out of the hospital. She had surgery to remove the tumor, but she was never the same after that. It seemed reasonable to me that my mother would one day recover and return home and life would be back to “normal.” My mother died at the end of my fourth grade year. Another blow to my father. He was crushed and broken. I always knew that he loved her and he cried like a baby when she died.
We moved in with my grandmother, my father’s mother. She was not a kind woman. I hated her cat because she loved the cat more than me. She sat in her chair with her tweezers and plucked her whiskers. She drank buttermilk and was left with a buttermilk mustache. She didn’t cook. She didn’t clean. She didn’t hug. I had to start a new school because of our move. My life was turned upside down. I had lost my mother and all the friends I had always gone to school with.
There was a new “normal” in our family. It amazes me that I thought life was normal. I would go to my friends’ houses. They all had moms and vegetables at dinner. Their fathers went to work and mowed the lawns. They played board games. They laughed. They went to church together. They drove cars (not bicycles because their cars had been impounded). I became painfully aware that my life was anything but normal. But, I loved my daddy and there was, oddly enough, safety and comfort with him.
A couple of years after my mother died, my father gave his daughters up to foster care. I had always thought it was because he didn’t love us enough. I realize now that he gave us up because he loved us so very much. He knew that he was unable to take care of us and to give us what girls needed. He sold our beds to our foster mother. He continued to remember my birthday for a few years. His mother died and he was alone.
After I was grown and married my husband and I bought our first home. It was two blocks from my father’s house. He would periodically show up at my door (when he wasn’t in jail or the hospital). I was always embarrassed by him. Yet, even then he loved me. He was so proud that I married someone in the Air Force. He was so proud of me. I was still his favorite.
I moved away. I moved 3,000 miles away and never saw my father again. I never wrote to him. I never called him. I got the news about 10 years later that he died alone in a dirty apartment, having lost everything he had ever loved. I didn’t cry. I didn’t even feel sad. The daddy that used to brush my hair…the daddy that taught me to ride a bike…the daddy that taught me to chop vegetables and ride a horse was long gone.
A brilliant man. A wonderful father. Such a wasted life.
When my sister and I discuss our childhood, it amazes me that we think we had a GREAT childhood. Somehow, we remember the father of long ago when we felt safe and secure. When life was good and we flew kites together. I had a great daddy.