The first Valentine’s that I ever really cared about happened when I was 13. I was out until kind of late for a school night, I can’t remember how late, but it had to be about 9pm when I walked in the door. My mom had this funny look on her face, “Your dad came by, he left something for you.” I forgot that my dad knew where I lived. So him just stopping by… not normal. She handed me a beautifully wrapped square block and a card. She rolled her eyes, “Ugh, that man.” I ripped off the pink tissue and kept the ribbon wound around my fingers. It was an intricately designed mermaid stamp, about the size of my palm and two ink pads, one pink, one blue.
The mermaid had curly hair and clouds and waves and her tail was thick and her shoulders were broad. I thought “Is this me?” This mermaid looked so much different than the damned Disney version. I would never be Ariel, but this mermaid… maybe. I opened a card and first saw my dad’s loopy scrawl then noticed the gift certificate to Tower Records. He knew I was growing up, that’s what these gifts told me; he knew me. We didn’t see each other much, but he understood me and I felt like I had this ally out there.
Two years later, at 15, a really really hard year for me, as I was bouncing between places, my dad tracked me down at my best friend’s mom’s house. He called and said he was down the street, been driving all over looking for me and asked if he could come over because he had a Valentine’s Day gift for me. I rolled my eyes when my best friend cooed at how cute that was. I was not really all that excited. I said, “Watch, he’ll have some ridiculously girly, useless gift.” I had gone through a lot since the mermaid stamp days. Why does time go by so strangely when we’re teens?
My dad came over and he had this wide slender silver box the kind a dress or suit would be in. Did he buy me an evening gown? What the hell? I know I wrinkled my nose, and he let me know he noticed. The honest truth was that I hadn’t been given a gift in a very very long time. I slid the top off and it was a snow suit made for snowboarding. It even said ‘Hardcore’ on it. It wasn’t girly or manly. It was this really cool color blue and had pockets everywhere. “See?” he said, referring to my previously upturned face. Because now I was jumping and squealing. It was the perfect gift. I had that snow jacket for about 10 years. There’s pictures of me wearing it in Seattle while pregnant with E. I still wasn’t seeing my dad regularly, but he was still my ally, out there, waiting for the right time.
Valentine’s Day is still really special for us. Now, my dad and I compete to see who can make the other one cry more. Handmade cards are my secret weapon. But he’s gotten pretty good at sending those ridiculously heartfelt “I’m so proud of you,” texts.
Sometimes I think love is all about timing. Other times I think it’s about bravery. It’s probably both. Love the folks that love you.