Here I am, once again crossing the vast expanse of desert from Arizona to Los Angeles. There is something calming about this drive. Maybe it’s the endless saguaro mile-markers or the “Seriously, Really Good Jerky” signs decorating the highway, but the open road feels safe in a "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"-sort of way. I know this stretch of road well because after graduating from college and moving to California, it’s a drive I routinely make to my home in Glendale, Arizona.
To my right on the seat is a lunch bag, packed with a sour apple, a tuna sandwich with a hearty helping of horseradish and a single biscotti. My gas has been filled to the brim and there's a note left that reads, “Had your car cleaned. A clean car is a happy car. — Love D.”
Next to my lunch pack in the passenger door is my designated car knife — a 9-inch-long machete, which my father also lovingly packed should some bandits decide to rob my car mid-drive. Sigh, I can always count on my father to pack a meal that will make my breath bad enough to ward off men and if that doesn’t work, I have weapons. It’s these thoughtful gestures that make my dad a perfect combination of mother and father.
When I was born, my father was 43 years old and a full-time doctor. The only interaction we really had in my early years was when he would tuck me into bed at night and tell me a story. My mother left the picture when I was around 11 and my dad was suddenly forced to learn how to care for a child full-time. Looking back, I think about how confused he must have been to take on sole ownership of a little sparkle-loving girl, but despite his quiet tendencies and my introverted nature he was always there for me.
My adolescence was filled with confusing mother-daughter moments that were almost comical when handled by a dad. Like the time he thought it was a good idea to take the family out to dinner to celebrate the milestone of starting my period. Or the time I introduced him to my first boyfriend and my dad pulled out his knife and asked, “Need help getting out that lip ring?” There were certainly times I wished for a woman’s opinion, but my dad tried his best to tell me which outfit looked best, often in his inimitable style: “Your hair looks cool in that braid-type dealio.”
Despite these minor speed bumps, I could always count on my father to be there. My lunch was always packed for school, even if it did have an eclectic roast beef sandwich and two dark chocolates. He also never missed a figure skating lesson, primarily because he would bring his own hockey skates and do stops in the corner often scaring the daylights out of the other figure skaters. Over the years, we developed a routine that found a nice balance between love and embarrassment. My dad had become like a mother to me.
Normally at this point in my drive to California, I would be speeding, blasting music and doing some impressive lip-synching, but instead I am sitting here in complete silence, feeling the hollow pangs of homesickness. This pit in my stomach started before I left this morning.
My dad and I were having one of our routine silent mornings listening to classic rock when he turned to me and said, “You know, it took me three years to adjust to you not being here anymore. You always made me laugh.”
My dad had never made a confession like this and I was completely taken aback. Most of the time, he brushed serious topics off with an irreverent comment, but this admission was real and was followed by a look of abject loneliness.
Leaving him this time was by far the hardest it’s ever been. Now, I drive along the desert and realize all those times I wished I had a mother wasn’t what I needed at all. I had everything I could ever need from a mother — in my father.