My Dad Made the Difference

My Dad Made the Difference

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Be The Best You Can Be

My Dad Made the Difference

All about me may be silence and darkness, yet within me, in the spirit, is music and brightness, and color flashes through all my thoughts.

~Helen Keller

“T here’s nothing I can do,” the eye doctor told my parents. “Take your baby home. She’s blind.” Mom and Dad clung to each other and wept freely. “All I can do is give her a full, happy life,” Dad vowed. “I don’t know how else to treat her except as I would any other child.”

As I grew, my parents realized I could see partially. The greatest gift Dad gave me was expecting me to meet my potential and to persevere, even with my sight limitation. One day after school, my dad came home from work early and saw me holding Dick and Jane close to my eyes, struggling to read the letters. “Dad, I can’t do this. It’s too hard,” I told him.

“Honey, you’re not a quitter. I’ll help you.”

My brother banged through the door and blurted, “The kids are saying my sister is stupid because she can’t read. Is that true?”

My voice quavered. “My eyes are bad, Dad. Does that mean I’m stupid? Will I ever be able to read?”

Dad squeezed my hand. “You can’t see well, but that doesn’t mean you’re stupid. We’ll work together, and you will read.”

Dad made me want to try. He took out markers and paper. While I lay on my stomach, he painstakingly drew letters big enough for me to see. It took hours. I also have some hearing loss. He pronounced the phonics slowly and distinctly so I could hear them. I learned to read and proudly read Dick and Jane with the rest of my first-grade class. Because of my dad, I had confidence in myself as a reader — until middle school.

One afternoon at the end of class, the teacher stepped out of the room, and a student taunted me. “You blind bat. If you get your face any nearer to that page, your eyes will fall out of your head!” I ran out of the school, tears glistening on my cheeks.

Dad was home when I burst into the house. “I thought I was a good reader, but I guess I’m not. The kids are making fun of me.” I told him what my classmate had said.

Dad hugged me. “I’m sorry, Pam. Kids can be cruel, but that doesn’t change the truth. You can read, right?” I nodded, unable to speak. “You can read. Your classmate can’t take that away from you.”

The knot in my stomach went away after Dad’s encouragement. I walked over to the picture window and looked out. I saw our old sycamore tree blowing in the breeze against the blue sky. I noticed the plush green grass, Dad’s enormous red roses on the hedge by the house, and how the amber sun shimmered as it began to set in the distance. “Dad, I see — how can I be blind?”

“From what you’ve described, you see big items, not detail. Others don’t know how much you can or can’t see. It’s up to you to show them how capable you are,” Dad said. I had a chance to prove this to myself soon after. At a fast-food court, the waitress asked my dad, “What does she want to order?”

“Excuse me,” I spoke up and smiled. “I can decide for myself what I want.” Dad nudged me and said, “That’s my girl.”

I used the sight I had and knew I was independent even as a blind person. Dad advised, “Take your cane in places like the grocery store so people will know you’re blind. It’s okay to let someone assist you because you do all you can on your own.”

Dad taught me to laugh at myself. He reminded me of the time I tried to pick up a sign that was painted to the floor. Another time, we ate in the deli, and I attempted to eat flowers off an empty plate. When I was ten, I wanted to ride a two-wheeler bike. I heard Dad say to Mom, “I’m not going to hold Pam back from the adventures any kid has.” On my first attempt, I said, “Dad, what if I fall off?” He replied, “You’ll get on and try again.”

I recall summers outdoors roaming with my friends. We crossed streets, played in the creek, and swung on a tire swing. In order to roller-skate, I used big landmarks: carport poles, garbage cans, a sidewalk contrasting with the grass, and the dark shadow of the house. Once, however, I smacked into a pole anyway. While the dentist capped my tooth, he objected, “Why are you letting her skate?”

“Don’t sighted children smash into poles?” Dad asked.

The dentist seemed appalled. He left for a minute, and I remarked, “Dad, don’t tell him yesterday I climbed a tree.”

“I won’t. It will be our secret.”

In the car, I exclaimed, “Dad, why do people think I can’t do stuff?”

“They can’t comprehend how they would do it if they couldn’t see.”

Dad continued to mentor and sustain me until all seven of my children were grown, and I became a grandmother. The legacy he gave me — unconditional love and determination — lives on within me and through them. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for my dad. He made the difference for me to believe in myself.

Though my dad has died, I still feel him spurring me on, like that day I went on a field trip to Astoria, Oregon, where a column overlooks the surrounding beach area. “You can’t climb that tower. You’ll get hurt,” a teacher informed me.

“Watch me,” I replied. “Nobody tells me I can’t do something.” I started toward the column.

“She’s spunky. I like that,” another teacher said, following me, cheering all the way, just as Dad would have.

~Pam Johnson

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