When I was young, in the years between my parents' divorce when I was seven and my father's remarriage to a woman who sociology dictated would one day leave him as well, when I was young I lived in a house with my father and my sister from Tuesday to Tuesday, and a house with my mother and my sister from Tuesday to Tuesday. This, O Best Beloved, was in the late 80's, when it was fashionable for children to have every-other-weekend fathers. I know this, because of all the children at my elementary school who got together to form the Divorced Kids Lunch Club, I was the only one who spent equal time with my parents. They wrote the custody agreement themselves and presented it to the judge for approval. They stayed in careful written contact - in triplicate! - regarding finances and appointments and vacations and clothing and what sort of disciplinary arrangements had been made (we were never grounded; we were too mortified by simple disapproval) and my parents, O Best Beloved, had a divorce that was so amiable it probably should not have happened. My mother, inviting Angel and I over to dinner for some special occasion - Easter, perhaps - will invariably call a day or so after the invitation is issued to let us know that if we would like to invite my father that would be fine. Her husband, in many regards so very like my father without the idolatrous childhood belief of perfection about him (Tom is a wonderful man, and I like him very much, but he will never be quite as competent or quite as brilliant or quite as well-rounded as my daddy), her husband does not mind. Why should he? They have remained some manner of friendship out of the marriage-that-was; that is a good thing.
When I was young in my father's house, we had two bedrooms and a large closet with a door and a porch, but my sister and I did not have to sleep in the same room. We never did, with some rare few exceptions, and I am glad because it meant that neither of us was strangled in the night by an overwhelmed sibling. We lived in a house with hamsters and a rabbit in the living room - a house with all wood floors because the owners in the weeks before closing had left two cats locked in the house without a litter box, and the carpets were ruined and the wood floors had to be refinished before they were bearable, but my father refinished them. We lived in a house with room for my precious dollhouse, a house whose basement, like every basement I have ever seen in a house of my father's, was full of projects or potential projects. We lived in a house that always had something to do, and not nearly enough clocks. My father would begin working on a computer or a monitor or an electrical outlet and I would watch, full of questions, and he would talk to me while he worked without looking at me and I would not look at him but at his hands and the pieces moving into and out of place and we would talk. And before we knew it my sister was tugging at shirtsleeves and raising her voice to complain that she was hungry, and it was nine o'clock on a school night and we'd forgotten about dinner.
My father's house was where I learned that baked potatoes are delicious with salsa and cheese. It was also where, in one of his early attempts to teach me to cook, he demanded I learn to say "Worcestershire sauce" properly before I could use it. I was in tears with frustration before he handed down the bottle, but I have never forgotten how to say it.
My father's house was the place where, when I asked what a word meant, I was pointed at the three-volume dictionary with Greek and Latin appendices. "What's the root of the word? What other words do you know that have that root? What do you think it means?" At my father's house, I read the Great Books at bedtime, Shakespeare and Darwin and Dante and Plato; a child reading books that many adults do not bother with. They went over my head, I am sure, for when I read them again in high school they were only faintly familiar; but those were my bedtime reading. He would sit on my mattress - I slept on a mattress on the floor under my bunkbed - and read to me, Madeleine L'Engle, with voices and inflection. He scolded me for leaving my radio on; you don't know what kind of things sift into your mind when you sleep if you leave that music on - and he smiled when I came to him with the lyrics of one good song that I would not mind having seep into my head. My father taught me to think; he encouraged an insatiable curiosity and the willingness to seek out ways to sate it. My father sent me away at sixteen to the Indiana Academy and told me when I graduated it that he hadn't wanted me to go. But he was so very proud that I had.
When I was a sophomore and I ran a razor blade across my wrists for the savour of the pain and bandaged them and hid it, when my mother found poetry that made her worry for me, she told my father. He came to me one night at ten o'clock and we cleaned the downstairs of his house while he talked with me about how he'd considered suicide in his life but never thought of a way that would be both dramatic and efficient, and he talked about the effect that he'd realized it would have on the people who loved him, and we talked and he never asked me a single question but when I went to bed he nodded and said "You're all right." And I was, or at least I am now. And when I talk about things that happened in the past my father knew about them then but didn't say a word and I came out all right.
I am my father's daughter, timeless and distractible and consumed by the ten thousand things that can pique my interest; I carry the genes of strangeness in me and I fear as he does the dementia that has taken so many of his aunts and uncles despite our Danish longevity. I have always too many things to do and too many things to see and I must cut my mother off on the telephone and remind her that if she tells me the times and places and dates I will forget them, e-mail me or write them down, please. I am busy busy busy and when I am doing nothing it is because my mind is racing and I must divert it. I am the daughter who sat in the front seat of the van when we left Death Valley at ten o'clock at night to avoid overheating as we crossed the mountain ranges; we talked through the night and into the morning as the Joshua trees loomed white and wickedly ghostlike from the night in the glare of the high beams. I and my sister are the children who were awakened from our drowse in the back of a different van by my father's excited voice, who climbed out of the car in the wee hours of the morning to watch the Leonids come showering down out of a midnight sky in the middle of the desert, somewhere in Arizona, a cascade of glittering starlight. We are the children who stood in a meadow in Glacier National Park and learned to find constellations with a star chart and a flashlight.
I told my Angel I would never marry a man my father did not approve of. I married the first man about whom he could find no snide comments to make. My Angel invited all four of my parents to dinner and asked my father for permission to marry me, and my father looked at him and said "She's twenty-one years old. She doesn't need my permission." But he gave it, and in July I will have been married three years. My father walked me down the aisle and my father danced with me to Butterfly Kisses and the reason we are both laughing instead of crying in the picture I have of that dance will remain between he and I; a shared secret.
My father lives in a different house now, the house in which we built an upstairs apartment and lived for over a year, a rambling structure from the early 1900's with murals painted into the plaster and a kitchen he is still completing renovations on, a rambling house too big for just himself, two cats and a dog, but my stepmother followed the dictates of sociology and my sister is almost twenty-two and I am twenty-five and my baby sister is nineteen and has a baby of her own and we do not come home as often as we should. But there is a Ford Probe in pieces in the garage that my brother, youngest of us, has taken apart after it was totalled and he spends Wednesdays and weekends there and I come to fix the computer and pick up my mail and yank on the strange creeper that grows up the brick walls and pet the cat. And Michelly comes to clean up and keep company and we come because our father is a man of infinite interests and he will listen to us talk about anything and mean it. And he is a busy busy man, always at a deadline or working on a last-minute project and things go wrong, but he has time for us and he always has.
I wear a watch with alarms and carry a PDA with a schedule and what matters is not the time you have in this time, what matters is the memory that time becomes.