Why Sunflowers Grow Towards the Sun
By Kalen Marquis
(Dedicated, with love and gratitude, to the dad I never “knew.”)
My dad used to climb up on the freezer box on the sun porch in the middle of the night. First, he would bang on the window. Then, when my mom, sister, and I were standing in the kitchen rubbing sleepy eyes, we would watch through the window as he strummed his guitar and sang at the top of his lungs. He would sing and sing and sing . . . making silly-putty faces against the glass.
My dad used to make us stop the car when the light was green. We tried to tell him that, “Green means go,” but dad would yell, “Stop!” Mom knew she had to go, but as the cars behind us went, “Honk! Honk! Honk!” dad screamed, “Stop! Stop! Stop!”
My dad used to pretend he was a crane. One time he brought home a tall, spindly-legged crane with an injured leg. I don’t know how he got it in the back of his truck, but the crane jumped out the moment he stopped. It started to hop away so dad began to chase it on its one gangly leg all over the yard. It didn’t take long before my dad was hop-hop-hopping up and down, flap-flap-flapping his arms like wings and whoop-whoop-whooping like that poor, wounded crane.
My dad did some of the funniest things but he did some scary things too. You might laugh at these things but, don’t worry, I’m sure that my dad wouldn’t mind. He would know that we often laugh at things that seem silly or frightening--things we don’t understand.
My dad used to follow us when we were driving home in Mom’s little green car. He drove a big, brown truck then and he would sneak right up on our back bumper, flashing his headlights and honking his horn. Then, when we did not pull over, he would smash us from behind like bumper cars. My dad must have liked to play smash up derby.
My dad once tried to make me eat a rainbow trout--bones and all! I wasn’t very old then but I didn’t think bones were for eating. Another time my dad tried to get me to eat a boiled egg--shells and all! I guess he thought eggs shells might be good for a growing boy but I couldn’t stand those itty-bitty-oh-so-gritty egg shells on my tongue. As a big adult, I have grown to love many things I told Mom I never would. I love onions, mushrooms and spinach. I might even swallow the tiniest bit of liver. But I don't’ like fish bones and I will never eat those itty-bitty-oh-so-gritty egg shells!
By now you might think my dad was really funny or you might think he was really mean . . . but my dad wasn’t trying to be funny and he wasn’t trying to be mean.
My dad, like you or I when we get a cold or fever, was sick. But unlike the most miserable cold, my dad’s sickness would not go away. He could not take an aspirin, put icy cloths on his forehead, or have his mom sing his fever away. As hard as he tried-- as hard as everyone tried--my dad could not be his regular self and he could not be my dad.
When he wasn’t feeling sick, my dad was a wonder-filled man. After each funny or scary thing he did, my mom would tell me why his family loved him and why she chose him to be my dad. She always reminded me that what he did was not his fault--or mine.
I never knew my dad when he wasn’t sick, but I’d like to tell you a few things I remember--some things I’ve seen in pictures and other things I’ve heard.
My dad used to spend hours with me when I was very young, having picnics at the park and digging in the wet sand at the lake.
My dad used to take me with him when he’d sail his remote-controlled boat down the gurgling stream by our house. I still remember him hopping from rock to rock in his bare feet the day it zipped downstream and far, far out of sight.
My dad used to go on mountain hikes, looking out through his binoculars with awe as he spotted some hidden wonder or the shimmering sequined sky from the balcony of his apartment at night.
My dad used to strum softly on his brown guitar, the one with the white wagon train design. He would trust the wind to cradle him in his heartache and his joy, laughing as it played twisting and twirling games with his hair. He would always smile as the soothing breeze drifted past his face and rolling Adam’s apple, sweeping the words to his love songs into the night.
My dad used to answer children’s silly, wide-eyed questions--all those curious questions that children always ask but many adults don’t really hear. He would sit, I was once told, in the tall grass of a neighbouring field for hours, happily explaining to a child why sunflowers grow towards the sun.
My dad, you see, was a caring man. Sure, he did the funniest and scariest things, but he never chose to. Nobody would. That is why it is easy for me, as a grown man, to forgive my dad. Even though he could never be the dad he wanted to be, there are many reasons why I’ll always be glad he was my dad.
After all, if it was not for my dad, I would not have my dad's wife, my mom--the most loving and courageous mom in the whole wide world.
If it was not for my dad, I would not have my dad’s daughter, my kid sister--now all grown up with a fun-filled family of her own and still the best friend I could ever ask for.
If it was not for my dad, I would not have had my dad’s mom, my precious grandma who served tea in delicate gold-handled cups and sent letters in the most elegant handwriting I have ever seen.
If it was not for my dad, I would not have had my dad’s sister, my dear aunt who made every trip to the park as much fun for her grandchildren as she did for me so many years ago.
If it was not for my dad, whose fever never seemed to go away, I might feel sorry for myself on those sad, silly days when it feels like the world is topsy-turvy and upside down.
Finally, if it was not for my dad, I would not be here today. I would not be living a life that he could only dream about.
At home each night as I sit at my desk stringing words together into stories and poems about this and that, I am content to look out upon a shimmering, sequined sky and feel the breeze wafting through my window. It is then that I sometimes think of my dad, the singer and songwriter, stringing words into songs and strumming his brown guitar, the one with the wagon train design.
At school each day, I read, write, draw and research with children of all ages--helping them to seek answers to their most wide-eyed questions. I teach them about learning from mistakes and giving their personal best. I especially try to teach them to trust their feelings and, when it comes to people, the difference between laughing with and laughing at.
Perhaps one day I will find a way to teach them about a dad who did the funniest things--a caring dad, like my dad, who would sit for hours, happily explaining to a child why sunflowers grow towards the sun.
© 1991 Kalen Marquis