This is What We Do
by Kathryn Usher
Father's Day. This Sunday. Still have time to get a card. This past month since my mother died I've spent more time with my 87 year-old father than I have in a long time. He tells me since he is blind he doesn't need a card. Practical.
I tell him about all the cards mom saved. All the envelopes and folded pieces of paper I have thrown away to purge her house so he and my brother can move there. I'm happy to be of service — cleaning, scrubbing. Those same acts of kindness were done for me when Charlie died. As compassionate humans this is what do for each other. "I'm so sorry for your loss. Is there anything you need? What can I do for y'all?"
My father is doing okay. He has always been strong. He lifted free weights, suntanned and ate tuna straight from the can because of his career as a performance artist.
What else I know about my father. Today he eats All-Bran cereal for breakfast. As a child he never had a pet. He now has three cats. And in the early 1970s, he wrestled a bear in Morgan City, Louisiana. Victor The Wrestling Bear.
While it may seem that my father's career was one of hyper masculinity it wasn't. He worked in an environment where it was normal for men to shave their body hair, paint their toenails and have fantastical personas like Gorgeous George. Looking at the photograph with this post you can see he has a head of blond hair. Not his natural color. It's bleached. And his work clothes are little wrestling trunks. Those are definitely non binary approaches to the work world.
My father's strength is a little different now. It comes as the ability to twist the lid off a gallon of milk, lift it and pour the correct amount into the cereal. Hand wash his bowl and spoon. Feed the cats.
If he's changed my mind on what it means to be powerful he's also caused me to think about fathers, parents, parenting, nurturing, family and family unit making. On this Father's Day I'm thinking about other nurturing types in my world.
"Did I frighten him by calling him stepfather?" Katee texts me after Mother's Day lunch a month ago. She's talking about what she said to my partner, James. Another intense and beautiful man. I laugh and tell her no, family is important to him.
So is loyalty and commitment. When we started dating and were in the middle of that giddy new relationship energy and he would sleep over, he would set his alarm so he could wake up an hour before sunrise to honor the commitment to drive his friend to work. What incredible loyalty. To have a someone who jumps up to drive you to work in the cold rain when they don't have to be up that hour and could instead be cuddling in a warm bed covered in soft sheets — that's a lovely kind of friend to have. That's a parenting kind of friend. One the world could use more of.
I know this is a silly example but one of the best nurturers I know is a ginger cat. Sweet Truman is an indoor/outdoor cat that brought home a tiny kitten I named Morphine. He convinced her to live on our front porch. We had them both fixed. They are now both indoor/outdoor cats. When we walk our two dogs at night they follow along. Neighbors are always tickled when they see us do our group cruise. We've crafted together a happy little family.
Last night we went to James's parents house for supper. We got the update on the new baby coming into the world this summer. James's mom has been busy cleaning and painting closets at their house. Ginger had James help her out by trying on pants and dress shoes. She would not let me take home James's shoes so I could wear them with my linen dresses. Of course my feet are large enough to wear my boyfriend's shoes. It's my big boney Danish and Native American genes. Dresses and men's shoes — I feel like my aesthetic is what Truman Capote's female character in "A Christmas Memory" would wear. Even though she wouldn't let me take the shoes she did give me a new clothes iron.
I got to tell James's father happy Father's Day since I would be working on moving my dad into his new place this Sunday. "Happy Father's Day — thank you for being a great dad to such a sweet man." Last night MK was wearing a bow tie and dining on bread from the Shreveport Farmers' Market. As we pulled out of their driveway we saw a big bunch of rosemary their neighbors are growing. "Oh, now I know where to send you to get fresh rosemary if we need it for baking chicken." James smiled. We drove home to feed our animals and take them on their nightly walk.