Dad married my mom when I was nine years old. He already had four other kids, and there were three of us on Mom's side. It was quite a madhouse for a while. I was a moody, awkward kid, spending lots of time off reading alone. I made no effort to connect with my "new dad." No one else would ever be the dad I had lost two years earlier.
Our lives changed dramatically. Before, we had mostly stayed in our neighborhood, playing with other kids on the dead-end street that butted up against a prune orchard. We'd go visit grandparents two hours away, but that was pretty much all the world we had ever seen, save one memorable trip to Shasta Lake.
All of a sudden, we weren't a quiet family of a young widow and her three kids living in a cheap subdivision in San Jose. We were a big, loud, high-energy conglomeration of personalities and talents and high achievers, and I felt pretty low on the totem pole. The Pierces were great students and musicians and hikers and skiers and winners at sports. They were confident and outgoing, healthy and beautiful. I had never felt so frumpy.
Dad introduced us to camping. He knows every wildflower, tree, rock, cloud type and constellation. In my young eyes, there wasn't anything he couldn't do or answer or teach. He was a boy scout leader, and all three boys became eagle scouts. He could fix anything, and was the guy who really did fix the family SUV with a piece of baling wire out in the middle of nowhere. He knew games to play in the car and funny songs and told us the story of the threelfee bullfulls (yeah, I'll explain later). He played tennis and skied and fished and dived for abalone and climbed mountains and took gorgeous photos and flew airplanes.
Dad spent his entire career working on his knees, installing carpet and linoleum. How the heck he ever made enough money to support us all is beyond me, but we were a whole lot better off financially than we had been before he came along. He worked extra night jobs and eventually built his own business. He bought retail property and fought the seller through a long, ugly lawsuit that could have ruined us, but ended up being a comfortable retirement income for my folks. He is smart and tenacious and I've never seen him back down from anything or anyone. He never expressed fear or weakness or pain or a lack of enthusiasm. The world was his abalone.
I never made it easy for dad. I was sullen and moody and never once reached out to him, but in spite of myself, I grew to consider him my dad, my provider, my safety net, and a bottomless well of knowledge, ability, enthusiasm, and dedication to family. I don't remember him ever being ruffled or annoyed, ever raising his voice or expressing disappointment. He taught me to backpack and ski and change the oil in my car. He corrected my grammar at the dinner table and stood by me when I struggled with math homework. He had high expectations but never expressed disappointment.
Last week, Mom and Dad phoned to tell me they're giving me their Prius. It's the same year as the one we just lost, but in better shape with fewer miles. This was Dad's idea, although it made Mom giddy because she loves nothing more than giving gifts to her loved ones. I've written about the incredible generosity of my parents before, but today I thank God for my dad. I credit him with making me an optimist, teaching me to face every challenge with courage and enthusiasm.
Thank you, Dad, for supporting me, believing in me, pushing me, and sharing your world of success and faith and an endless positive outlook. You filled a hole in my heart and made it grow and thrive.