In my dream, it is a perfect October day. A sky hard and blue as ceramic, the whole world on fire with the crimson death of summer, harvest in full swing; it is the sort of day that a child takes wholly for granted.
I am sixteen and I’m driving the best tractor known to man, an International 806. Pulling a full wagon load of corn up the incline to the main road and not thinking about the yawning ravine off to my right. Until I throttle the engine back and it dies.
Here is where the dream veers into the realm of nightmares. There had been noise – the growl of tractor engine, indistinct radio static, birdsong – but now there is silence. My hand reaches of its own volition, moves languidly, like a fat bass under water, and turns the key in the ignition.
The engine stays dead and the tractor begins a slow roll backwards.
I am going to die.
But then a miracle happens. The wagon strikes something hard. The tongue bends - the crash of metal on metal exploding into the quiet - and the tractor comes to rest, cockeyed, back tires just on the edge of the path. A handful of corn dislodges from the load and drops off into nothingness, brushing elm leaves on its way down the abyss.
My legs are jelly, but I jump from the tractor, roll once in the hard dirt and sit up to see . . . my dad.
He had been following in the grain truck, had seen my dilemma and accelerated to catch up, stopping my roll with the nose of his truck.
Fathers, you see, stand - always and implacably - between their children and the stuff of nightmares.
A mother is the indispensable giver of hugs and kisses, the untiring listening ear, the arms that hold you when you cry. Fathers don’t know what to do with tears, but they will single-handedly slaughter every demon in your universe and they will, if you let them, give you all the tools you need for life.
My own father taught me how to work and how to dance. How to play poker and how to pray. When I couldn’t balance a check book he got out his pencil; when I drove home drunk he summoned an awesome and righteous anger.
He has been, and remains, the only hero in my universe whose feet aren’t made of clay.
Father’s Day . . . well, it doesn’t quite cut it for most dads, does it? Chocolate, or socks, or a blue work shirt hardly say what needs to be said.
But I think he knows. A father, to a daughter, walks amongst the gods, is the brightest and most infallible star in her sky. Although he would laugh out loud if he were to read this.
And then I would be embarrassed.