In Honor of my Father

In Honor of my Father

My Daddy adored me. I was his first child. He was besotted with his first little girl. According to my mother, I adored him back. She said he used to take me everywhere and spend hours playing with me. Painting pictures, cutting out paper dolls, and making things for me. In those days, shirts came from the laundry with cardboard inserts to keep their shape. My daddy would help me cut out crenelated shapes from these and glue them together. He would make me cardboard crowns decorated with gold or silver wrapping paper. Then we would cut out photos of jewelry from magazines and glue those onto the crowns. They were so lovely. I wish we had kept one. No one goes to that amount of trouble anymore. But we had the whole evening or much of a Saturday or Sunday. We had no television yet. We had each other and our imaginations. My daddy had a vivid imagination and he encouraged my own.

He was a real presence in my life. Not an absent father, and he loved my mother. From my earliest days, I was aware of their affection for each other. It just seemed normal to me. It was decades before I realized how lucky we were to have parents who cared about each other that much. My father loved to buy presents. He enjoyed giving my mother jewels (real ones) and laces, and furs. He loved to buy me and my younger sister presents, too. That continued as long as he had his mind. In fact, when he began to lose interest in this we knew something was terribly wrong. It turned out to be early onset Alzheimers Disease.

But my feelings for him changed somewhere along the way around the time I was 7 or 8. It may have happened when my brother who was 4 years younger, became old enough for my father to take on outings. I don’t remember a specific time but I believe my father began to leave me home and take my little brother instead. There is a vague memory deep in my mind of standing at a door or window and watching Daddy drive away. Whatever it was, a mystery to me still, I began to resent him and treated him as if he had done something to hurt me. But he never did anything but love me. He never faltered in that. Looking back I see him as a constant support in my life, never favoring one of us over the other. But at the time, I missed being the only one. I missed our special time together. I liked it better without my sister or my brother. It was my first rejection and it stung.

However, he was not aware of this change in my feelings. He continued being sweet, generous, kind, and expansive in his gestures of affection. He was also really funny! Loved to play practical jokes on people and sometimes laughed behind their backs in a way that is no longer considered funny.No matter how horrible I was to him as a teenager, he continued to buy beautiful things for me. He and my mother would take me, my sister, and my brother on marvelous trips to Europe and around the world. He bought me a car for my 16th birthday. He loved to show me off. He was proud of me. And I was often just “hateful” as only a teenager can be. I thought he was pretentious. Well, he was of course. But I gave him no slack.

There were evenings when our family dinners devolved into me screaming at him, “You just don’t understand anything!” And I am embarrassed to say I also sometimes added, “I hate you!” I would throw down my napkin and storm up to my room slamming the door as loudly as possible. My hormones were raging and I hated being told what to do by anyone. There were a lot of expectations in our family. My sister got better grades than I did. She did her homework, while I skipped mine repeatedly. Desperately curious, I loved learning, but after being home schooled when we lived in Europe, school bored me. I chaffed under some of the rules young students were supposed to follow. While at other times I excelled as a young hostess or a guest at a grand party, even at The White House.

My daddy loved showing me off. My body was mature and I wore clothes well. Someone told me that my father used to show me off like a Barbie doll. Maybe so, but I had fun dressing well and going to fancy parties I was actually too young to attend. In those days it was permissible to want to grow up sooner rather than later. And I did.

When I was 19 I married my childhood sweetheart with my parents’ blessing. Though my father told my sister he had hoped to marry me off to a Prince, he was satisfied that my husband was the son of family friends. (He hoped my sister would do better). When I began having babies my father was the most devoted granddad. He adored his grandchildren and I began to see from more adult eyes how extraordinarily generous he was. Also, he was kind and thoughtful to these children. He was not nearly as controlling as I thought he was. I appreciated him as a grandparent. My kids adored him.

He wanted to share his good fortune. Nothing pleased him more than showing people around his magnificent home in Newport R I. He would invite strangers with whom he got into a conversation to come through the gate from the cliff walk to come to see his house from the inside. He loved to throw a party. He was interested in expanding his circle of friends and loved having people from other countries visit. He never could speak much French or Spanish. His accent was just awful. But that did not stop him from trying to communicate with people who spoke little or no English. He was a marvelous networker. People either loved him or hated him. He was not neutral. In spite of being an Ambassador twice and Chief of Protocol too, he was not very diplomatic when he left those offices. He was blunt, but he was consistent. As I have said before he was funny and good-humored. Being around him was fun. I saw him angry from time to time but I never saw him depressed. He was a force.

Unfortunately, he was taken down by Alzheimer’s way too early. He died at 73. One day a few months before he died, I was able to say how much I loved him while holding his hand. I knew he probably did not understand. But I told him I understood how much he loved me and all of us. I told him how grateful I was to have him as a father. I told him, “I love you.”Maybe it was my imagination, maybe I only think it is true, but I felt him squeeze my hand. Thank you, Daddy, in Heaven for all you did for me and how very much you loved me and my family. We love you still. Happy Father’s Day.

L to R John Foster Dulles, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Wiley T. Buchanan

Copyright©. 2022 Bonnie B. Matheson

6 thoughts on “In Honor of my Father

  1. What a tribute to both you and your Father, Bonnie! I remember both your Mother and Father with great fondness. If only we could have our parents back with us, if only for one day??!

  2. Love this piece about your Dad. The pictures are so cool, I love seeing pics of you as a teen and your family pics.

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