From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Not My Father’s Son

Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.

J. M. Barrie

My father came back from the Army after World War II eager to dive into the American Dream. He had a wife, a young daughter, and plans for the good life. The first thing he planned to do was to buy a Buick. Then he found out that he was going to be a father again.

“Well,” he said, “if I can’t have a Buick, I’ll at least have a son.”

When I was born, he very quickly saw that I was a scrawny, squally baby girl. I was not a Buick, and I was not his son.

Whether I sensed this or it was just my biological makeup, I tended toward more boyish activities. While my sister yearned for a Tiny Tears doll, I wanted a hammer of my own. When she played house with her friends, I was busy pretending I was a cowboy riding the range on my white stallion—a long-handled broom with a bristly straw mane. When she went shopping, I went climbing up the back of the neighbor’s steep, slanted garage roof to play spy. My sister could whack a Spalding during a punchball game, but I could hit an infield punch that sent the other team scrambling while I ran the bases.

My father let me watch him when he worked around the house, and sometimes he let me help. I loved being my father’s assistant on his home improvement projects. I learned how to scrape and wax floors, paint walls, spackle holes. I wrapped sandpaper around a wooden block and sanded the rough ends of the boards my father cut. I drew on the sidewalk with pieces of discarded wallboard instead of the chalk my friends used. My mother said I was a tomboy. I just wanted to know how to fix things.

As I grew, I started to like more girly things like dancing and dressing up, but I still liked that I could feel comfortable around a toolbox.

When my father had a heart attack at eighty, he couldn’t do the things he used to, so I pitched in. I helped him set up a new apartment after Mom passed away. I put together a cabinet for his bathroom and assembled a dinette set for his small kitchen. I took him on outings, maneuvering his walker and then his wheelchair into and out of the car so that we could walk around the duck pond together in the spring when the ducklings and goslings hatched, or we would go the local doughnut shop to share a snack and a cup of coffee. The logistics didn’t frighten me. My father had taught me to look for a way to work with them.

One day as we were out enjoying the sunny weather, I asked Dad if he was disappointed that he didn’t have a son after all. He looked at me in surprise.

“No, I’m not disappointed,” he said. “You are the best son I never had—and a wonderful daughter.”

I was not my father’s son, but at that moment I was his proud child.

Ferida Wolff

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