I have my dad's eyes. They are a dark mix of green and gray and blue and tend to change color depending on my mood or what I'm wearing. Growing up, I didn't like my eyes--I would sometimes comment that they were the color of the bottom of an algae-infested pond. I like them now; I like that they are different, that they aren't your typical brown or blue. I'm the only one of my siblings who got them. Shortly before my grandma's death, I remember looking into her eyes and seeing my own. My grandma passed them to my dad who passed them to me.
Who I am is largely made up of traits from my dad. We are cut from the same mold, he and I. I think it would scare him sometimes when he looked at me and saw so many of his own strengths and weaknesses. Looking back, I can see how he tried to protect me and prevent me from making his mistakes. I think he still does.
We had a few rocky years where it felt like the house just wasn't big enough for both of us, but even then, I remember times where we talked for hours, just him and me. Sometimes I felt like we actually got along best when there was no one else around. Mostly he talked, and I listened. I've always loved listening to my dad--he somehow blends stories and wisdom and anecdotes and advice into one seamless narrative. He's not really a talker by nature, but if you can get him going, it's worth listening to. I respect my dad's advice and opinions more than almost anyone else's. Maybe I'm naive, but I still think he knows everything.
Dad grew up in a tiny town and learned at an early age the value of hard work as he went out with his dad, my cowboy grandpa, to tend cows and mend fences and who knows what else. I love this early part of his life and the way it shaped him into the man he is now. I remember the times he let me "help" with his projects: as a little girl, I brought him tall glasses of ice water as he dug out a deep, deep fruit cellar by hand for my grandparents. I sat with him on the plywood for hours in our "attic" while he installed a staircase ladder. I "helped" chase calves into the chute to be branded and vaccinated.
When I went to Portland, OR for a year and a half to serve a mission for my church, my contact with my family was limited to letters, emails, and two phone calls per year. Every week, I got a long, newsy email from my mom, a letter from Grandma that came every Wednesday like clockwork, and more often than not, a handful of letters from my dad. I remember checking the mail once and finding three letters from Dad that had all arrived on the same day. Each letter was handwritten, concise, and usually contained something random (a dollar bill, a cartoon, one of his famous doodles, a pamphlet from a place he'd gone...). He wrote about his death hikes, his thoughts, his experiences, the people he knew. Reading those letters was like meeting my dad for the first time, seeing the world through his eyes. Sometimes I would share pieces of them with my companions, and they began to look forward to his letters almost as much as I did.
My dad isn't a letter writer by nature, but he wrote to me prolifically, with almost a sense of urgency, because he somehow knew that I needed him. Maybe he needed me, too. I felt like every letter built an ever-widening bridge of understanding and trust between us.
And once again, I find myself living over a thousand miles from home and family. Dad doesn't write me letters anymore, but sometimes I can catch him on the phone, and we talk for a couple hours.
He would rather eat rocks than talk on the phone, but he talks to me.
I think he knows I still need him.