Susan Mihalic

Susan Mihalic
August 05
Writer & editor. Passionate about freedom of expression. Liberal, aspiring to be pointy-headed. Follow me on Twitter: @susanmihalic.


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JUNE 16, 2012 8:43PM

A Day for Other People

Rate: 25 Flag

Given to be by my father when I was about four, this gas-station giveaway tiger has been with me ever since. 

Most years, Father’s Day comes and goes without my even being aware of it. Pretty much all advertising is wasted on me; I pay no attention to what product is being advertised, and helping Dad celebrate his special day with a sentimental card and a new weed whacker blows right past my consciousness. Father’s Day has always been a day for other people—not only the fathers, but also the people with fathers.

I’ve never thought much about Father’s Day because I’ve never had to. My father died a month after I turned five, but my memories of him are vivid and specific.

One summer when I was at my grandparents’ dairy farm near Philadelphia, Mississippi, he made the two-hour drive from Jackson to spend the weekend at the farm. He brought me a plush stuffed tiger, a gas-station giveaway (“Put a tiger in your tank”). It was in a clear, protective plastic bag, and he gave it to me in the dairy barn, where I was watching my grandfather hook up the cows to the milking machine. Afterward, the two of us went to the house together. I held my father’s hand, and with my other hand I swung the tiger in its bag. I clearly remember how happy I was to see him, how surprised and delighted I was with the gift. I haven’t been without that tiger since. It’s nearly fifty years old, and its frayed green velvet ribbon may be the only thing holding its head on.

If I were in the car with him when he was driving to the farm, once he’d made the turn onto the dirt road to my grandparents’ house, he’d let me sit in his lap and drive, which meant that I put my hands on the steering wheel. He also let me ride on the riding lawn mower with him. The general wisdom these days dictates—and rightly—that kids not do these things. But my father had sense enough to hold on to me, and I had sense enough not to let go.

Every evening when he left work, he bought a Tootsie Roll from the newsstand in the lobby of his office building, and when he got home, I’d shimmy up him as if he were a tree, knowing that the inside breast pocket of his jacket held a treat for me.

When I was about three, he spent some time affixing a hook-and-eye latch high up on our screen door, because I was tall enough to open the one just above the handle. I watched him work, and when he was done, I went to the broom closet, got a broom, and used it to pop open the latch.

He made sure I had my own bottle of apple juice because of the considerable backwash I produced when I drank straight from the bottle—which he allowed me to do. I think he even encouraged it, because the sight of a four-year-old knocking back a whiskey-size bottle of apple juice cracked him up.

He took me trick-or-treating.

He decorated the silver aluminum Christmas tree with shiny red ornaments.

He buried our dog, Charlie, who was hit by a car.

When he cut down an oak tree in our yard, I asked him to leave me a thinking stump. “A what?” he asked. “A thinking stump,” I said, “so I can sit on it and think.” So he did. And I did.

When he had a heart attack, I found him facedown and unconscious on the bathroom floor, and I thought he was playing a game with me. I jumped on his back and proceeded to bounce, performing, I’d like to think, chest compressions in a sort of ride-’em-horsie fashion. He didn’t die then, at any rate.

After his leg was amputated, he had an actual wooden leg. He would have marveled at modern prostheses. His artificial leg was heavy and uncomfortable, and he spent long hours in physical therapy. I once decided to practice my karate moves on him, and I karate-chopped the wooden leg, which amused him to no end.

I once went to physical therapy with him by stowing away in the backseat of the car. My parents didn’t know I was hiding on the floorboard until we arrived at the physical therapy facility. Neither did my sisters, who were supposed to be watching me at home and weren’t quite sure how they were going to tell my parents they’d misplaced me.

He read to me.

That’s about it. It’s not a lifetime of memories, but it’s been enough because it’s had to be. 

And the strange thing is, with only this to remind me of a man I hardly knew, I still miss him.

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mike mihalic, father's day

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To be sure, almost everyone in the family can tell stories about my father, and I've heard most of them more than once. But these are my memories of him--too few, and yet enough.
Oh, Susan, so sad and yet I am so glad you do have these memories. RRRRRRR
I can't imagine having this many memories in the short amount of time you had with your father. You may have only had him awhile but it sounds like he made that short while very special. I'm glad....
The quality of your memories, however brief, shines brightly as the tiger burns...still. What a lovely post. R and a hug...and my thanks!
Amy, thank you. I'm glad I have those memories, too.

LL2, he truly was a wonderful father.

Persistent Muse, thank you.
You are lucky that you were such a pistol and so intellectually precocious. I think that allowed you to set down sophisticated memories before the age of 5! And, you've held on to those memories with a stubborn resolve not to sentimentalize them, but to keep them real. Your dad loved you. And you have found a way to hold on to his approval of you and your spirited nature. Love this piece of writing - and remembering.
Pen, thanks. That means a lot. I was afraid when I started writing this that it would disintegrate into sentimental mush . . . but the memories are like short films in my head. I can still see the light on that walk from the dairy barn to the house and feel the heat of late afternoon.
Beautiful and bittersweet. your writing shines, as does the light around the memories you share of your dad.
So few, and yet enough. Beautiful, Susan. ~r
Thank you, Joanie. xo
Such a nice write Susan!
If you were really loved, that's all it would take to make you miss that loving presence.
Thank you, J D and Poor Woman.
Great memories Susan and very touching. My dad is still with us and turns 82 on Monday. It's a blessing and a curse because of his Alzheimer's and myriad of health problems. That said, most of my fond memories with him come from childhood as well. I believe (I know) that is when they impact us the most. I'm glad you have those vivid memories to give you some comfort. He would be VERY proud.
This is so very touching. Beautifully written and gently told.
Thank you, Myriad, Blue, and Lea.
Thanks for sharing your memories with us and for giving Fathers some recognition!
Zumalicious, thank you. He was a good father by nature, and he didn't live long enough for me to see his flaws (so, consequently, I don't think he had any). Sometimes when I need to chin up, I tell myself, "You're Mike Mihalic's daughter," and it helps me find my spine.
Beautiful story of your dad. It was enough and some of us didn't have anything like you had with your father.
What a beautiful thing you have given your Dad, here. R:-) thank you for sharing these precious memories.
Miguela, thank you. Oddly, I feel fortunate, because the love was absolute.

Pandora, thank you.
Glad I was directed here. A beautifully written piece, Susan; well said. R
Maybe not a lifetime of memories, but enough to last a lifetime. This is such a bittersweet reminiscence and yet the fact that you know how much you were loved, even for such a short time, is a beautiful thing, and something a lot of people can only imagine.
Thank you, Margaret. I agree.
So beautiful and touching it is difficult to find words. A life and a lifetime distilled into five wonderful years. Once again I feel Tillich's words well up from inside: "Love is stronger than death." Rated with love
It is remarkable that you can remember these things with such clarity. You have a small treasure box of memories. I love the tiger. My grandpa gave me a stuffed tail from that campaign, meant to stick out of the car's gas cap, like a tiger was actually inside your tank. It was weird. I kept it tied to my bedpost, same as you, because he gave it to me.
The memories so vivid and present. And all good ones, all portraying a lovely relationship and a loving father. I wish you'd had more but I'm glad you have these. "But my father had sense enough to hold on to me, and I had sense enough not to let go." appropriate in more then one way.
I understand your title, but I still believe it's a day for you too. I wish that you had more of him. What you do have, though, is wonderful and I'm glad you shared it with us.
Greenheron, Maria, and Jeanette, thank you.
Your memories of your father sounds wonderful. I'm sorry you lost him at such a young age; it sounds like he was a very good person.
PMG, thank you. He was special, and to me he still is.
Wonderful documentation of your memories--the detail really makes them glint in the mist of absence. I lost my father when I was 4. This really hit home with me. (How did the editors miss this)?
Thank you, dirndl, and I'm sorry for your own loss at such a young age.