If I have it, and you need it, it’s yours.
-My father, David M. Lanagan
Whenever I fall, my dad is there to pick me up. The first thing he said when Dana and I announced that we were getting a divorce and not planning on reconciliation was, “what’s next, Mrs. Landingham?” I didn’t really know, but I did know that it gave me strength at a time when I could really use it. My whole world was upside down, and it was emotional shorthand for “let’s not look in the rearview mirror.” He knows that it’s my process to think and rethink everything to the point of exhaustion, and that one phrase, repeated over and over in The West Wing, had the desired effect. I started thinking about what I wanted my life to look like, and let myself off the hook (for the time being) of wishing for what had been.
When he started the conversation about moving to DC, he said, “do you really want to remain in Houston?” At first, I didn’t know where that was going to lead… but as we ate breakfast in the Avalon Diner at The Fountains in Stafford, Texas, I told him that I absolutely adored my friends and family, but Houston itself didn’t really speak to me. After having lived in Portland so long, I missed the ever-present green spaces, and places to hike that weren’t man-made due to the concrete-jungle flatness. Houston is a lot of things, even beautiful in its own way, but my heart just didn’t live there in terms of setting. I am a Virgo, tied to the land… but I never realized how much I liked to be outside until I lived in a place where it wasn’t 90 degrees most of the time…. and 60 degrees on the inside as overcompensation. DC gets just as hot, but not as long. By the time we were ready to pay out, I could already feel the snow blowing against my cheeks.
DC had been on my own 3-5 year plan because Dana’s parents are older than mine. We figured it would be a good idea to move home eventually so that we could be a part of their lives while we still had them (the irony of my mother dying is not lost on me). We’d spend a few years in Houston, and try to get jobs in DC so we would have guaranteed income once we got there. Dana was going to be a teacher, so she could work anywhere. There’s an IT corridor in Northern Virginia and if I couldn’t find a job right away, I could always cook or wait tables until that perfect salary came along.
My dad, knowing how much I loved DC and how much I wanted to go back, jump started the process by saying “I will support you until you find what you need. Just go.” So, I packed up my clothes and rented a furnished room, while, for the first few weeks at least, little boxes of the “if it fits, it ships” variety arrived every day. We called it “moving $11 at a time.”
It’s always been that way. Every time I’ve needed something, my dad has just handed it over. It just says so much about him and the way he approaches life, because he doesn’t just do this for me. He does this for the rest of my family and his friends, as well.
When I was in high school, the girl that bullied me every day got her horn stolen, so he told her that she could borrow his… the one he’d played since he was in high school himself. The bullying got worse after that, but in retrospect I think it was because she was embarrassed that she could never repay such a gift.
I feel that way often. I wish I could publish a best-selling anthology or novel, win the lottery, get a job that pays me far more than I’m worth… whatever. Anything to be able to repay the gifts that I’ve been given over the years… and not in a way that makes things equal. Something to show my dad that his investments in me haven’t been lost… that believing in me wasn’t a raw deal.
I know for certain that if the tables were turned, that I had money and he didn’t, I’d do exactly the same thing he does for me. What is mine would be his… and even if he never found himself in that position, it would still be a dream to shower him with cars and houses and bling-bling. I can’t show my gratitude the way I want, the way he deserves, so I spend a lot of time hoping that what I can do is enough. It doesn’t have anything to do with him; it is all about me and how I’d like to be able to treat him to something he’d never buy for himself.
What he can’t buy for himself is memories.
Shortly before Lindsay was born, in May of 1983, Return of the Jedi arrived on the big screen. I don’t remember any of the movie, but I do remember the lights going down and feeling incredibly special because we were on our own… the last father-daughter date before he was wrapped up in taking care of a six-year-old AND a newborn… but it was more than that. Shortly after Lindsay was born, Hurricane Alicia hit Galveston hard, and while my mom, Lindsay, and I went to NE Texas to be with our grandparents, my father was one of the few people allowed to remain on the island with his clergy pass. He weathered the storm by helping others… the way he weathers any storm, really.
As I got older, I got my own kid-sized clergy pass. I went to weddings where he officiated, I went with him on visits to families whose loved ones had just died, I went to funeral homes and cemeteries. Because Mom was so tired because of the insane schedule of a baby/toddler, I became his de facto company. He never talked down to me, because by the time I started talking, I was way past the cutesy voice you use with a child. A lot of the time, I had just as good a vocabulary as those around me. We’d laugh and joke while rolling around the city, and I often answered his bag phone while he was driving. I was an excellent secretary with a preacher’s kid phone voice… probably the same one I use in customer service, now. Very few people ever knew it was me, because I was determined to sound like a grown-up… so most of the time they thought it was my mother.
Life as a preacher’s kid makes you grow up fast, especially the larger the church because more and more eyes are on you. My dad always made room for me just to be me, another thing for which I’m eternally grateful. It was hard to constantly be held to a higher standard than the rest of my friends, and not by my parents… by theirs.
I’ve also seen him handle so much tragedy with grace. When I was in fourth grade, the fifth grade class went on a swimming trip with the principal and a few teachers. One of the girls thought swimming looked easy, and jumped in. The principal almost had her, which made the situation even more tragic for him when she drowned and they recovered the body later. My dad helped the entire community through their unimaginable grief. I was grieving, too, because even though I didn’t know the girl who drowned, she was the daughter of my favorite third grade teacher. Even while dealing with sadness on every front, I felt safer knowing my dad was in charge.
When I was in 7th grade, my dad let a parihioner move in with us who was taking chemo treatments at M.D. Anderson. We all took care of her, but it was my dad who showed me just how far he would go to help, and why it matters. It always matters.
When I was in tenth grade, one of the kids in the youth group lost his father while on a saltwater fishing expedition, and my dad carried the family through their tears, as well.
Helping people with his prayers and presence led to his next move when I was in 12th grade. He thought he could help people more with medicine, and embarked on a lifelong dream. He sacrificed going to medical school because he thought it would take too much time away from Lindsay and me, working his way up from EMT I to Paramedic II and apprenticing under my stepmother to learn as much about rheumatology as he possibly could… and because he was a Paramedic, he’s the only one you want to go to when you need a shot or an IV.
In the evenings, he let me practice on an orange until I could use a butterfly needle and when it came time to practice on real skin, offered his own arm. It was brave, but not nearly as brave as teaching me to drive.
My favorite memory in that arena is that I’d just gotten my learner’s permit when we had to go and visit my grandparents. It was just us in the car, and my dad was exhausted. He reasoned that you only had to have a licensed driver in the front seat- it said nothing about being awake. So, off I went, “Driving Mr. David” the five and a half hours from Houston to Lone Star.
It was amazing, because for once, I was taking care of him.