Daddy Dearest

February 11, 2008
By Julie Hooper, La Jolla, CA

It’s dark. It’s that dark where you can’t see the lined wood floor you’re stepping on. The dark that exists at 8:30 P.M. in my house. I pass my mother’s office where she’s still typing away at the lesson plan for her class tomorrow, the click clack of the keys echo down the hallway. I walk on and I hit the stairs. It’s that frightening part of the house where the soft smooth wood floor morphs into the jagged cold slate, which of course I can’t see. I feel this change and, wanting to save myself from breaking an ankle or some other important body part, I extend my arm and run my fingers up and down the wall, groping for the light switch. My fingers close over that thin plastic thing, and I push it up. That scary hallway of windows explodes with light, and I hear a disembodied voice shout, “Turn off the f***ing lights.” It’s my father, daddy dearest.
My father’s schedule in a few words:
8:30 PM: the sun has gone to bed and therefore so must every human being on earth says he including my father
7 AM: in the kitchen whistling Bob Dylan (the music of his day) with a large white mug sitting in one hand and the New York Times in the other
Work or Trabajo as my father says in his attempt at a Spanish accent
3:00 PM: Second cup of coffee or third cup of coffee or fourth or fifth
Swims or attempts to take up surfing again- anything that constitutes a cardio workout.

The importance of Drinking Coffee

No, my dad does not drink orange juice; instead it’s always grapefruit. He doesn’t drink beer unless it’s non-alcoholic. His drink of choice is coffee, but it can’t be just any coffee. Starbucks is out. It just isn’t what it used to be damn corporate bastards. It can’t be Mojos. (Do they actually call that s*** coffee?) My dad likes his coffee black, strong, and at times with a little bit of honey. It’s Kenyan or a special blend from Sumatra Indonesia, and it’s always from Peet’s Coffee.

My dad’s office is huge. It’s the size of a three-car garage, three times the size of my room, and it has huge glass windows that over look our backyard and have electronic shades that whir and drop down when it gets dark. It’s called my dad’s office and it holds his collection of beautiful, slightly worn first edition copies of the Alice and Wonderland books and The Lord of the Rings books. Its name suggests that this is the room where my father does most of his work, but it’s not. The title “office” should be bestowed upon a little coffee shop named Peet’s. It’s a place where middle-aged professors flock to grab a large cappuccino and get some work done. My dad knows the crowd. He knows absolutely everyone who works there by name, and he knows almost everyone who comes in. Going to Peet’s with my dad is like going to a party with a friend who knows everyone while you know absolutely no one. We walk in. It starts with a wave from our position in line ordering drinks and in thirty seconds we are surrounded by those older professor types those slightly bald men with the tweed jackets and elbow patches that radiate the smell of musty books.
My dad’s one of those regulars, who is known by name and drink by every single employee. It is after all where he gets most of his work done.

Drowning in Fat

Consider a few synonyms for fat: overweight, pudgy, piggish, porcine, muffin top, and heifer-like; sickened and stuffed, bloated and jiggled, celly and obese; carrying a few extra pounds, loosen your belt, too tight in jeans, out of shape, puffed up, expanded out, post Thanksgiving; heavy, hated; lazy, loser, and lipid; round, rotund; corpulent, bullvine, glutinous, gargantuan, portly, potbellied, thickset, tubby, elephantine.

My dad hates fat and loves exercise. He never misses a day of swimming, surfing, running, riding, or biking. Dance, especially ballet, is not a sport. I walk in the sweat running off of me and he still manages to say, “Ballet... oh that’s not a sport, that’s not exercise, that’s stretching.” “You used to be so trim and in shape. Why did you ever quit swim team? That was such good exercise. Swimming always makes me feel so good,” he still says anytime I have a tiny flap of extra fat on my stomach. I used to be on swim team and I was my father’s pride and joy with all my third place and honorable mention ribbons from random swim meets. Swim team was never for me, and to be completely honest, I despise the sport. I love to swim in pools and the ocean, but the competitions where I would awake at 5:00 in the morning and drive to Fallbrook only to get disqualified in the 100 butterfly for forgetting to touch the wall with two hands one of the eight times I touched the wall and of course the repetitive uncreative drills ruined it for me. A couple years ago “the family” (my mother, my father, and I) was dragged by my father to a dietician in an effort to improve “all of our eating habits.” It was actually an opportunity for him to harp on my eating habits and my love of baking and the fact that hitting puberty had given me the present of wider “womanly” hips than I had had before. I spent an hour listening to him as he rambled on and on about my pear shaped figure and the extra weight I carried. “I just can’t help thinking that the gain in weight is due to her quitting swim team, and on top of that I come home and she’s always baking some sort of cake or cookies,” or he would say during dinner, “Maybe you shouldn’t eat that your putting on a bit of weight.” I heard when he blamed my quitting swim team, my cookies that were made with butter not vegetable oil, and pasta nights that existed in my house when he wasn’t around to stir fry broccoli. It seemed only to confuse the dietician, but it hurt me. His love and care for my health and diabetes was suffocating and I felt as if that tiny pocket of extra weight on my lower stomach was creeping up and wrapping around my neck in an effort to strangle me. It made me care less. I ate twice as much coffee ice cream and two servings of pasta rather than one and at times skipped meals to both spite and please him. I hurt myself even more to give him proof that he had hurt me mentally.

I finally found a balance with diet and dance, and I’ve lost the extra weight. Diet, exercise, and my diabetes remain an issue in my house. I still have screaming fights about it with my parents and it’s a constant challenge. I’ll lie when my mother asks what my blood sugar is and it’s not a number I want her to know about. They are still kind of the police when it comes to my diabetes. My mother sometimes finds me in the bathroom puking as my blood sugar escalates to 500 and above and as my meter reads in machine-like letters “high”. It scares my parents who drag me in for questioning. What did you eat? Why did you forget to give yourself insulin? When did you do your last blood test? Why do you keep doing this to yourself? Unanswered questions transform into threats. My mother’s response when things get bad is “You better watch it or your going to lose your kidneys,” and these fights over my health end in tears of fear and self-pity. I still have these problems, but as I gain confidence and responsibility over my life this issue comes in and out of focus.

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