My parents met while teaching at a school for deaf boys, which meant both that they were fluent in sign language and liked a certain degree of quiet. This last bit has always been particularly true of my dad, a man who’s been known to disappear for whole days on nature trails and has read every single Russian or French novel that’s ever weighed in at over 1,000 pages. Fittingly, my sisters and I bonded with him over mellow activities in our childhood – be it through exploring Boston’s Arnold Arboretum, dissecting the characters of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” or taste testing pizzas all around New England. Another quiet obsession he tried to draw us into long ago was that of deer hunting, err gazing…
You see, my dad used to pass fenced-off nature preserves filled with deer every day on his way to work, and one weekend he insisted that we (his three toe-headed, jelly-sandals-and-dress-wearing daughters) go on a hike and see these deer close up. He boldly steered us past “No Trespassing” signs and lifted us over boulders, all the while coaching us on how to silence our footfalls so as not to scare off the deer. Those hours of quiet bonding must have been heavenly for him, and I’m sure they would have been nothing short of victorious had we actually found the deer we were looking for.
It turned out we were tromping through the woods on the opposite side of the highway from the deer preserve, and my sisters and I teased him mercilessly for this oversight. Amidst this taunting, however, the four of us shared countless glances and silent understandings that this outing was our father’s way of showing us who he was – his way of sharing things he could never say out loud. In fact, if we’d spotted any deer that day I think it would have been like seeing a clone of our dad, albeit a little more hairy and covered in pine needles. I think it was the deer’s magnificent silence that appealed to him after all – the way they stand stock-still and take in the world with their wide eyes – and it is these characteristics that my dad exemplifies to this day.
During my wedding ceremony (which I can barely believe was already one week ago), there was a moment that transported me back to this deer-hunting expedition. It was when my husband and I were about to exchange rings and I’d realized I wasn’t supposed to be holding anything in my hands. Although tradition would dictate that my sisters hold my flowers, I immediately called out to my father to take my bouquet, and – since we were standing in the middle of a public field – I loudly instructed him, “Watch out for that dog poop over there!” He looked at me wryly, as though questioning how I could possibly think a guy like him would ever miss such a glaring thing as dog poop, but he proceeded to walk gingerly through the tall grass and take my flowers in his hands without another word. Something in the glance we exchanged and in the way he stepped off with my flowers around the landmine of dog poop felt like we were back in a highway-side preserve in Massachusetts, only this time there was a shared victory between us. It may have been the silence or the sea grasses, but I somehow felt a lifetime of quiet communication pass between us and I became aware of the sensation that – without saying anything – I could hear my dad tell me he was proud of me, and I felt like we’d finally spotted our elusive deer.
In that moment we could both see so clearly how much we meant to each other, and in this moment – writing these words – the boundlessness of that affection brings me to tears. And, although I thanked him silently at the time, I’m suddenly aware of the fact that we can never truly say thank you enough to the people who love us. So, this is my little “thank you” that I’m sending out to the dear man who taught me to love books, silent reflection, and science-fiction TV – the guy who taught me to watch my surroundings in a writerly way, and the man who would quietly hunt the world one-billion times over in order to find happiness for his children.
Psst: Do you also find that your gratitude sometimes goes unsaid? Do you have any “thank yous” you’ve been itching to say, or stories from your childhood you’ve been aching to share? I would love to hear from you, darling reader! Leave a comment.