ast week, my buzzer rang. “Chi è?” I asked. I wasn’t expecting anyone.
“Fioraio.” The florist.
I looked at my husband Marco quizzically.
His Roman response was “boh,” which meant he had no idea who’d sent the flowers. They weren’t from him.
Inside the brilliant spring bouquet was a card that read, “Happy Mother’s Day!”
So no, they weren’t from my husband, and they weren’t from my children.
They were from my father.
Considering my father isn’t the sentimental sort and that after 10 years in Italy both my parents still haven’t figured out how to make an international call, receiving flowers qualified as a grand gesture.
“That is so nice!” Marco exclaimed.
“Well, I have a nice father!”
Marco agreed. He loves my father.
“Nicer,” I couldn’t resist quipping, “than my husband, who didn’t send me anything on Mother’s Day.”
“Mica sei mia madre.” (“Well, it’s not like you’re my mother.”)
He was being sarcastic. But he’s also nice. In fact, I picked a good father for my children because I had (and have) a great dad.
When we were children, my father worked in construction. We never saw him in the morning. He left the house at 5 a.m. and came back 12 hours later. But when he did come home he was the Mick Jaggar of Montague Drive. Every neighborhood kid came out to greet him. He’d kiss us on our foreheads, grab a football or a baseball bat from one of the boys on the street and then say, “Girls! One of you run inside and get your old man a beer.” My sisters and I would race to see who could get to the fridge first.
Bedtime was also his domain. He went room-to-room, reading to us. He’d improvise on traditional tales or embellish fairy tales with ridiculous and hilarious details he made up along the way.
My father was a ton of fun.
When my youngest sister was in kindergarten, the teacher called my mother in for a conference. “Mrs. Dugan, we have a big problem with Molly telling tall tails.”
“Oh?” my mother replied, confused.
“She keeps lying about how your husband drives, and I’m concerned.”
My mother told the teacher she’d speak to Molly and scurried out knowing it was time to have a one-on-one with my dad. Mike Dugan liked fooling around in the car. He’d close his right eye —we couldn’t see his left one — and pretend that both were shut, swerving back and forth as we’d scream: “WATCH OUT!” and “GO STRAIGHT!”
We squealed and laughed and soaked it in. He’d be arrested for that today, of course, but it was 1979. The seatbelt in our Gran Torino station wagon was optional. And dad’s pranks were more exciting than any roller coaster ride.
Many Saturday mornings were spent in the living room, where we had dance parties to the music of Don Cornelius and “Soul Train.” We’d boogie down like no other white people on the block. Sunday, my dad would read the Washington Post cover-to-cover. As soon as I could read, I’d sit beside him and scan the comics. In fact, I learned to read the rest of the paper just to be close to him. He introduced us to politics, music, theater, sports, and always embraced the importance of education.
So he wasn’t only fun. He taught through example. My sisters and I learned the value of sacrifice, hard work, integrity and loyalty through him. When he started his own business he wrangled us together and said, “Girls, statistically most businesses lose money in the first five years, so we’re going to have to cut back and try to get through.”
Mike Dugan’s Freakonomics freaked me out as an 11-year-old. At the time, I was a competitive gymnast. To keep up with tuition at a tight time, my dad offered to work around the gym (after 15-hour days) to ensure I could keep training. One day, he was up on scaffolding hanging a light fixture while I was in line for vault. One of my teammates shouted, “Ew. Why is your dad dressed like a worker and working like a worker. Are you poor?” I was mortified. I wanted to cut her tongue out of her throat. But I deflected the anger, something my father taught me, and made a joke. All the girls laughed and the subject was changed.
I hated myself for saying nothing. For not having defended the one person who would always defend me.
The moment stayed with me until the spring of 1998 when my father (whose business never lost money), sold his company to a public conglomerate. As my family celebrated I wanted to hunt down that girl and tell her, “He was always a success but look at him now!”
My father doesn’t need to send me flowers. I know he loves me. He’s shown it for more than 40 years. But I do need to ask myself, now that he’s turned 71 and with Father’s Day right around the corner, what I can get this man who not only has everything but has given me everything.