From Chicken Soup for the Country Soul

My Father’s Hands

Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness, but manifestations of strength.

Kahlil Gibran

As my father’s devoted and only daughter, I noticed things about him my two brothers never mentioned or may have taken for granted. Two things in particular made Daddy more wonderful, interesting and capable than all the other fathers I’d ever seen or heard of— Daddy’s large, sensitive hands. How wonderfully warm they were when I placed mine in his to be rubbed warm on cold winter days. Daddy’s hands had endless capabilities, from braiding my pigtails or successfully retrieving a kite from the topmost branches of a tree, to washing my little brother’s diapers by hand when we couldn’t afford a washing machine. Whatever the job or situation, his tireless hands actively carried it out.

When he was a child, the eldest of seven children, Daddy went to work in order to help support his family. His own father’s failing health made it necessary for Daddy to drop out of school. He never complained about being a provider at such a young age. Perhaps that is where his hands found their direction.

Daddy had long, nimble fingers that could thread the smallest needle in order to mend the hem in my dress or sew on a missing button. They could carefully trim the nails of tiny fingers and toes, remove splinters, bandage skinned knees, and, unlike Mama, Daddy could tie straight sashes on my party dresses. Those same agile fingers had a magical way of strumming guitar strings, making my nursery tunes the most beautiful music I ever heard.

Daddy’s inventive hands were also strong and useful, wonderfully tanned from working in the sun, and a bit callused. There was no unfamiliar territory to Daddy’s hands. They could whip up a delicious and colorful meal in minutes (pancakes were his specialty and favorite). I loved to watch in wonder as his skillful hands worked.

Daddy’s hands conveyed a message as they tenderly stroked a fevered brow or mended a broken doll. They seemed to speak, to understand unspoken pain and emotional hurt when I found no way to vocalize this. Daddy’s hands soothed and sympathized through their touch as no words could.

Yes, these were the hands of my father. Hands with the knowledge of household repairs and heavy equipment that tenderly, untiringly cared for his children and my mother through her many long illnesses right up until her death with the soothing expertise of nurse and husband. Somehow, during those times when I was sick, it wasn’t so bad. Daddy would take a small blanket, warm it in front of the fireplace and wrap it around my small, cold feet with hands of love. Comfortably settled in his lap, it was apparent even then that no mother’s hands could have done better. How comfortable to be “all snuggled in,” sensing that everything would be all right!

Memories of the old, familiar railroad songs Daddy sang, as his reassuring hands patted me in time to the tune, linger still. Peacefully I sucked my thumb, nestled contented, loved and secure against the rhythm of Daddy’s heartbeat while the old rocking chair creaked back and forth. At these times, Daddy did not mention my thumb sucking. With my other hand, I would hold one of Daddy’s large hands studying the contours, tracing the lines, caressing the rough spots, now and then encircling my entire hand around one of his warm fingers with pride. Daddy’s nails were always trimmed, although he had a permanent split that made a funny design in his left thumbnail. This, too, was special and endeared him to me more because he was building my dollhouse when he acquired the injury.

My father’s hands were perfect in my little-girl eyes. They had the strength and power to move mountains. They made the impossible possible!

Years later, in a small hospital room as Daddy lay near death, too weak to speak out loud, I sat tearfully at his bedside. But, holding his hands, those delightful, formative, important years of shared experiences paraded before me in fond and vivid reminiscence. I smiled, recalling special moments as I proudly held those same wonderful hands in mine, seeking out and feeling once again every crevice and line, every callus and scar. I marveled at the many years these magnificent, dedicated, untiring hands had devoted to his family. What an experience of love they had brought. I lifted them, placing the tired, now pale hands against my face, reveling in how warm they were even now just as in my cherished yesterdays. I kissed each brown spot, reminders of his eighty-three years, but I did not see these brown places as “age spots.” To me they were beauty marks instead, representing a job well done. I could no longer hold back the tears filling my eyes.

For a brief moment, Daddy roused and opened his eyes as if he wanted to speak. I leaned over close to hear his whisper. With a faint, concerned smile of love, his trembling fingers reached up to gently trace my brow, stopping momentarily to wipe away the tears now glistening on the cheeks of his “little girl.” And time stood still. Then Daddy closed his eyes and, sighing one final breath, slipped quietly away.

As I looked down fondly at the precious, motionless hands of my dear father, I knew one thing for sure then, and I am even more sure of it now: No mother’s hands, in all the world, were ever more endearing or more beautiful than the hands of my father.

Floanne Kersh

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