what I'd say

My dad was an engineer. As a kid, I didn't really understand what that entailed. I only knew it meant lots of tools, lots of curious-looking devices, and lots of hours logged at a basement workstation tinkering with them. I learned very early on that my dad could dissect, reassemble, and explain anything with an electronic pulse, though such explanations were lost on me - less because of my young age and more due to the fact that I am not mechanically inclined, at all. That bit didn't land a spot on the DNA he passed along to me. Probably got bumped off by his dry humor and temper. Those I got in spades.

Nevertheless, I liked being down there, in our musty Michigan basement, near him while he worked away on various mysterious apparatuses. I'd color or do crafts (little known fact: clay and pipe cleaners predate Pinterest), blissfully immersed in my childhood creativity while he soldered wires, or calibrated dials.

One day I showed him a drawing I'd done. I feel like I was about seven, but of course I can't be sure. I remember having used the new "neon" set from Crayola, and for some reason, I'm pretty sure I'd drawn a family of aliens. In my mind's eye I see oversized, brightly glowing heads and gangly, striped bodies. (Insert joke about future psilocybin use here.)

Anyway, he made a huge fuss over my picture. It was the greatest thing he'd ever seen, etc. etc. In fact, it was so good, he wanted to share it with others. Would I make copies for his friends and employees? 

He didn't mean on the Xerox machine. 

My dad was asking me to replicate, by hand, some random, throwaway drawing I'd done just to pass the time. And though to an outsider it might sound weird, or like he was making some inordinate demand of his child, it was actually the highest compliment he could have paid me. And, brilliantly, it would keep me busy and quiet for at least another couple of hours.

I got to work immediately, invigorated by the challenge. I don't recall if it was then that he sweetened the deal or later, but at some point he added that rather than just give my art away, he'd sell it. Ten cents apiece (or some similarly trivial price). 

To this day I remember what the stack felt like in my hand, when I turned it in: triumphantly thick, the paper waxy from crayons I'd worn down to nubs. And I remember him doling out a dime or a quarter here and there over the next week - my earnings from the sale of limited edition reprints.

For all I know he shelved the lot of them. For all I know he kept one and threw the rest away. For all I know he didn't even keep one. But it doesn't matter. What matters is how he made me feel that day, about myself and my creative efforts. What matters is what he taught me about valuing both.

I can't call my dad today. I can't wish him a happy Father's Day and catch up on our respective domestic vagaries. I can't confess to him all the secret things I don't tell you guys, or even my best friends. But I know what the conversation would sound like, anyway. I know what I'd say if I could.