“You think I wanted to be married and saddled with you two brats at 25?” my dad says as we sit on a dock in Burdett, New York, at the site of Seneca Lake of the Finger Lakes. “I thought I would be hanging on the back of a boxcar headed to Sante Fe.”
The water is rolling on, its tiny waves cruising alongside white sailboats through the lake. Seneca Lake is calm, like it, too, has passed through its wildest moments.
Right now, imagining my chubby father with a smile stretched across his face in his dad jorts and holey socks holding on to a train car seems pretty funny. After he toted us to from our chosen winery of the moment to a craft store (any man’s nightmare), planning on sleeping on the couch tonight as my sister and I claim the two bedrooms in our rented rustic cabin, I know that what he says was once true.
Back in his heyday, my dad was… a lot like how I am now. He was always looking for a way to get out and cause some mayhem with his dopey friends, could generally be found hanging out at dirty bars, was never really sure who’s couch he would end up sleeping on that night and was always on his way to somewhere else. He spent hours running through forests, chasing deer and catching turtles. He says he was making $5 an hour and had a girlfriend that cost him $6 an hour.
The idea of such change, from a wild, young pseudo-adult to a responsible parent of two, scares me inconsolably. To think that my dreams of adventures of faraway places and the many memories to come with my equally instantly-gratificated friends could fall to an ordinary existence toting brats around is petrifying. I know the fear is exclaimed across my paling and silent face.
“You don’t see it now,” he says, reaching down to touch down a scurrying fish, “but you’re not always going to want that.” I say nothing. He’s right, I don’t see it now. I see the clearness of the lake and the freedom that I have stretched before me in a life with no ties to anything at all. “You’re not going to want this forever. You’re not going to want to hang out with yourfriends and go to bars. You’re going to want to go to your kids’ parent-teacher conferences and go away for the weekend with your husband.”
At one time, for a very short time, that was my dad’s life, too. He and my mother were married for ten years, which I have varying memories of us going to zoos and kid-friendly restaurants and parks. The other varying memories consist of my mom throwing hair-dryers at him and her asking me if I would mind switching schools midyear as we moved, for the first time of six, following my parents’ divorce.
Nowadays, not a lot of semblance of my father as a saddled married father of two remains. We frequently take bets on when his newest girlfriend will be kicked to the curb, I sometimes get his drunken voicemails when I wake up for work on Thursday morning, and my dad is always headed to a concert or upscale restaurant with his cigar-smoking friends.
However, the semblance of his daditude that does remain is, I guess, vehemently instilled in dads everywhere. Here we are for four days, holed up in a cabin he found via some other rich white dude. He drives us anywhere we want to go and isn’t the least bit offended when my bratty sister complains about the WiFi or lack of soda. Most of all, even though it sure as hell isn’t Sante Fe and we got here via 2001 Ford Ranger rather than box car, my dad couldn’t be happier to be hanging out on the dock of a Seneca Lake cabin with his hat over his face, chatting with his daughter.