Kate Dudding: My Father's Daughter
My father, Kenneth William Eike, Sr., died in 1983 when he was 68 and I was 32. I have many regrets about his death. One important one is that my son was born 2 years after my father died, so they never met. But my largest regret is that I never established an adult relationship with my father.
Oh, I knew he loved me – that was never in question. You can see his love for me in the only picture I have of him looking at me. I’m six months old, wearing my tiny Easter dress. He’s holding me like a sack of groceries, with my back against his chest. He is just beaming down at me. There are a lot of other pictures of us together, looking squarely at the camera, but this is the only picture I have of him looking at me.
So I always knew he loved me.
But we didn’t really have interests in common. He was primarily interested in sports, mostly watching them on TV, even bowling and golf, but he also bowled and golfed and fished in real life. I’m interested in crafts and playing the piano – things my mother did.
Even though it was too late for me to change our relationship, I still wanted to find some connections between us. So I sat down one day to count the ways I resemble him.
I looked at photos for any physical resemblance and discovered that I have my father’s smile – both his teeth and his lips. So I counted both of these ‘startling’ physical resemblances as one.
My father was a pachysandra farmer, on his 50’ by 150’ suburban lot. Pachysandra is a ground cover, which thrives in shady areas. My father started by planting pachysandra under the maples by the street, then under the shrubs at the front of the house, then under the shrubs at the back, under the blue spruce, the Japanese maple, the forsythia in the back, as well as by the stone wall and the garage. He knew just how to propagate the pachysandra by taking cuttings each spring, after the pachysandra flowered, and cutting off side shoots just where they joined the main stem. He put the cuttings in a flat of sandy soil, put the flat in the shade and watered it for several weeks, and whenever there wasn’t any rain. The cuttings were ready for transplanting in the fall.
So when my husband and I moved into our first home, my father arrived with a flat of pachysandra and installed it where we wanted it. On the day we were moving to our second home, which was after my father had died, I suddenly got upset and said to my husband, “We can’t leave the pachysandra here!” So he just tore up a bunch of it, took it to the new house, several miles away, and stuck it in our son’s wading pool until the yard had been graded. The pachysandra survived this unorthodox treatment, thank goodness.
Now I have not done any pachysandra farming. But at our second home, I did plant lots of perennials and spring bulbs. So I’ll count our shared gardening interest as two.
Then I got on a roll. I realized that whatever organization my father belonged to, Purchasing Agents Association or Trout Unlimited, for example, he always got involved in organizing events. And I do that with my organizations – the local storytelling guild and the PTA. So that’s three.
Then there are cards. We both love to play cards. Growing up we played 4-handed pinochle with my mother and brother – girls against the boys. And we played 2 handed cribbage and gin rummy. My father would never discard anything he thought I wanted. At the end of every hand, he looked at my cards. “I thought you were collecting 10s. I’ve been holding onto this 10 since the beginning of the game!” That’s four.
And my son enjoys cards and betting on cards. My father occasionally played poker with his cronies. So, since this betting on cards passed through me to my son, I’ll count that as five.
But five was as far as I got. I wasn’t satisfied -- it didn’t feel like enough ways that I resembled my father.
But the next Christmas eve, the 17th without my father, something happened.
Everything was finally ready for Christmas: food prepared, tree trimmed, presents wrapped and put around the tree and in the stockings. And we still had some energy left. So my husband and son challenged my sister-in-law and me to a game of Ping-Pong.
We had only had the Ping-Pong table in the basement for a few months. And I can’t remember when or if I’d ever played any doubles sports game. But I heard myself saying, “Good shot, partner!” and “Your serve, partner.” I couldn’t figure out where all this partner talk had come from…
But as I was getting ready for bed, I realized -- that was my father’s card table talk. When he was playing pinochle with my brother or grandfather or uncle or the next door neighbor, my father was always saying, “Good game, partner.”, or “We’ll win the next hand, partner.”
Suddenly, that was six. And that was enough. I finally realized that I do resemble my father, in ways I may or may not recognize. I look forward to future revelations. But they will merely confirm what I now know deep in my heart: I am my father’s daughter.
Copyright 2007 by Kathryn Eike Dudding. All Rights Reserved.