Love, Dad

mem·o·ry

Dictionary result for memonoun

  1. 1.
    the faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information.

Memories are strange.

Some you can't remember. Some you can't forget. Others come back in waves or at odd times, without warning. Following no rhyme or reason. Some are triggered by sounds or smells.

This past Valentine's Day I was up early per usual. I set out Valentine's Day gifts for our kids. It's something I've done nearly every year. Nothing big. Just some chocolate, little items from the dollar section at Target and energy drinks for the big kids. Valentine's Day is about love, after all. I don't give one flying you-know-what that it's a made up Hallmark holiday. I love it and I think it's a nice way to surprise those you love most.

After I set out all their little Valentine's Day gifts, I poured my coffee and plopped down on the couch to scroll Facebook before having to start the morning wake-ups. I came across a post in one of my favorite mom groups which is tailored to working moms. The post was a poll asking about Valentine's Day and whether or not you buy stuff for your kids. Of course the answers were wildly varied - depending on multiple factors: culture, geographic locations, socio-economic status, number and age of children. I found it interesting that a handful of moms didn't buy anything for their kids. They thought it was ludicrous and over indulgent.

So of course one post leads to me over thinking something (weird, right?) and then I start to think about what my parents did for me on Valentine's Day growing up. Maybe I buy my kids stuff because that's what my mom did? Was my mom at Target the night before Valentine's Day looking for fun little gifts for all of us every year? Honestly, I don't know.

But what I do know is that as I got older, my dad would ALWAYS buy me something on Valentine's Day. I'm not sure if my brothers ever got anything- maybe. Maybe not. I never told them, or rubbed it in their faces. It just felt special. Being one of six kids, it wasn't often that any of us got something without the others also getting something.  But I was his only daughter so this was something just he and I shared. It was not uncommon for me to come home from practice to find a Valentine's Day gift on my bed, from my dad. I remember one year coming home on Valentine's Day and there was a gift wrapped on my bed - inside was a bottle of my favorite age-appropriate perfume. Another time, 16 roses (one for each year I had been alive) were placed on my dresser, waiting for me when I got home that day. He always got me a card, too. It was usually addressed to "Kitten" which is what he always called me, and always signed "Love, Dad".

I don't think I fully appreciated that little tradition we had back then. I mean, I was grateful and every year it seemed to surprise me. But I don't think I realized how special that was. Now that I'm a parent, I absolutely love that he did that for me. Being the only girl, he and I didn't share much. We had a few traditions here and there but I don't have a book full of fun memories of working with him on job sites, duck and deer hunting, or late night video game sessions with him, like my brothers do.

He and I shared a love for debating politics, evolution, and the Bible, in addition to our yearly tradition of Christmas shopping for my mom every December 23rd, and then our special little Valentine's Day.

This past Valentine's Day as I scrolled Facebook and reflected on Valentine's Day past - I was bombarded with a memory.

In 2000, when I was 20 years old, I had just gotten dumped by my first REAL boyfriend. It was my first adult relationship, which naively enough I wound up convinced it would never end and I would eventually be marrying this boy. Guess what? I didn't. He broke up with me while he was attending college up in St. Cloud and I was down here living at home while commuting to college at UW River Falls. He broke up with me the end of January so I'm guessing, as a newly single 20 year old - I was probably extremely dramatic about it and if I had to guess, I was more than likely moping all over the damn house. (my poor parents). By the time Valentine's Day rolled around two weeks later I had, of course, nothing to do and no plans. At the time my mom was roughly seven months pregnant with my youngest brother Sam.  I remember them saying they were going out to eat at Olive Garden. And if memory serves right, kind of last minute, my dad invited me with. Looking back, I'm not sure how my mom felt about this. She was a very pregnant, stay at home mom of (almost) six kids. She was probably dying for a hot meal with none of her kids around, but regardless, I tagged along happily.

I don't have any solid recollection of dinner, other than I know it was at the Olive Garden in Maplewood. I only remember this because after dinner we went over to the Maplewood Mall. I'm not sure why. But I do know that while we were there we went into a jewelry store. I assume it was to buy my mom something. My dad was very generous to her and always went over the top with gifts for her at Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and her birthday. At some point I was looking at a case full of tanzanite rings. I thought they were beautiful. I had never seen anything like it; the purple color was almost mesmerizing. I have always been a tomboy and never much of a jewelry person but I really liked that stone. My dad came over and told me to pick one.

Um, what?

"Nic, pick one. Do you like this one?" he held up a ring. It was yellow gold, with a marquis cut stone and two tiny diamonds next to it. I can't remember the price, but I know they were having a sale. And even with the sale I remember thinking that it was kind of an expensive gift for me for Valentine's Day. But, I did. I liked that one. So he bought it for me.

I adored that ring. I cherished it and I wore it every single day. I cleaned it and took care of it and never took it off.

For as much as that ring meant to me, it meant even more to me after he died. I remember in the aftermath off all we went through I almost couldn't even bear looking at my hands and fingers without crying because they reminded me so much of him. Because they resembled his own hands. The hands that had held mine so many times. The hands that had worked so hard for our family. I had them, his hands. But as I healed from losing him, I eventually took comfort in looking at my hands, as they were a smaller version of his, wearing that ring he bought me that I loved so much.

Years later - I found myself a struggling single mom.

I needed to pay my rent and I was a couple hundred dollars short. I didn't have anyone who could help me and I had tapped out all my resources. I had asked more people for help than anyone should ever have to. And I couldn't do it again. I wouldn't do it again.

So - I took that ring in and I sold it. I cried while selling it. And I apologized over and over to him, to myself, to no one. - "Dad, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." I cried. So many tears. I felt so awful and so ashamed and I couldn't help but think that he was probably so disappointed in me. That I had let my life become what it was. I didn't have much to my name. I didn't own anything- really. So having to sell that ring was one of the hardest decisions I had to make but I didn't know what else to do.

That was one of those memories that got buried. I haven't thought about that moment, or that ring, or that Valentine's Day dinner at Olive Garden for a very, very long time. But for whatever reason, last week as I read those Facebook posts about the over indulgence of today's kids, that memory came flooding back. And I couldn't stop thinking about it. All day. And all day when it would pop into my brain it would bring tears to my eyes.

I know that when I sold that ring, I didn't sell the meaning of it. The gesture and the tradition of it will never go away or disappear, even if the memory isn't always at the forefront of my mind. I know that my dad gave me that ring because he loved me and he knew I was hurting and sad. At the time I remember being so surprised and kind of confused as to why he decided to buy me something so extravagant. But now that I'm a parent I get it. He knew I was hurting. And he tried to fix it. He tried to make me feel special and loved that day.

I also know that wherever my dad is, he knows that I sold that ring because I had to. And I know I cannot replace that ring with the same one he bought me but I can replace it to fix the empty place it left on my hand, and in my heart. So when that memory came flooding back to me this year, I decided right then and there - I'm going to replace that ring.

So, while this new version wasn't picked out of a jewelry case by my dad, it was picked out by yours truly. His daughter that is no longer hurting. No longer struggling. I bought myself a new tanzanite ring, with little diamonds.

                                                                                               
It feels a little bit like redemption for me. And a definite homage to him.

Happy Valentine's Day, Dad.


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