Creatures of Habit

My father and me in 2005 at his 80th birthday party

My dad ate poached eggs and toast for breakfast every day when I was a teenager living with him in Livonia, Michigan. He woke up at 5 a.m., put on a pot of coffee, read the paper and made his simple but satisfying morning meal. He didn’t say much as he sat at the kitchen table, methodically planning his morning. His shift as security director at Mount Sinai Hospital in Detroit didn’t start until 3 p.m., but he had things he needed to accomplish beforehand. Each moment would have a purpose; no task would go undone.

As a World War II veteran and retired Detroit police officer, my father experienced turbulence and loss throughout most of his life. At 18 he was on board a U.S. Navy ship bombed by a Japanese suicide plane in the Sulu Sea. A torpedo from a nearby destroyer sunk the U.S.S. Ommaney Bay, and 95 of his fellow Navy men were lost.

Whatever remained of my father’s innocence sank to the bottom of the sea with his ship. He returned to the states suffering from what would now be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder. He was haunted by what he had seen and needed to re-establish order in his life. He went from the Navy to the police department, finding comfort in the structure of enforcing the law.

But the chaos followed him, professionally and personally.

It traveled with him through the streets of Detroit as a beat cop, and as he climbed the department ranks to become an inspector. In 1967 it took shape in the Detroit riots, the violence and destruction of which left the city he fought to protect in ruins.

That same year he and my mother faced the personal upheaval of an unexpected pregnancy. They were relieved and pleased that what my 40-year-old mother thought might be a tumor turned out to be a baby. Two-and-a-half years later, she was diagnosed with leukemia and died within six weeks. My older siblings stayed with my father in Detroit, and I went to live with my aunt and uncle in nearby Southfield. Two teenagers were enough; a toddler was more than a devastated widower could handle.

At 11, I returned to live with my father, a man I barely knew, and his new wife. I didn’t understand him or his rituals. I didn’t know about the things that had happened to him or what he had seen. I couldn’t possibly comprehend the significance of his morning routine, the structure he imposed on his life. I wouldn’t realize who my father was and why until I heard his stories years later and then experienced firsthand some of the chaos and loss that come with adulthood, including his death six years ago.

Now, as a wife and mother of two, I find comfort in morning rituals of my own. I pop out of bed at 6 a.m., rouse my bleary-eyed children and head downstairs to prepare their lunches. I make myself a cup of coffee, turn on the television for the local weather report, and silently and methodically plan my day. Each moment will have a purpose; no task will go undone.

I am my father’s daughter.

Five Star Friday

69 thoughts on “Creatures of Habit

  1. I’m glad you were not a tumor! And I can see why both you and your dad crave the structure offered by routine. There’s something comforting about being able to put one foot in front of the other, no matter the type of terrain you’re crossing.

  2. Wow. Your own amazing story is tucked away in there. I can’t imagine what it was like to have your life shifted at 11 years old. You have so many roots by then.

    Beautiful post.

    • Thanks, Shannon. As I just commented to Robbie, I didn’t really know where this post would take me. I started writing about my dad in his kitchen and wound up back in my own. It took me a long time to get to this happy place, but I’m sure glad I made it.

    • Thanks, Robbie. I’m not sure how this post ended up where it did. I didn’t intend to be part of the story. But it’s what makes me like my dad and it’s how I wound up where I am, happily enjoying my morning routine.

  3. I love that picture. I remember that party well- I wish I wouldn’t have been so nervous and distracted bringing Andy- and taken in more of the people who were there. That was one of the last great times.

    You are your father’s daughter- and I loved him well. I didn’t know all of that about his past- but it clears up some of the confusion I have carried around when I once went out to their car, and found a small handgun under the front drivers seat. I don’t know if I ever told anyone about that.

    • Really? How old were you? I’m surprised he had it with him at your mom’s. He usually only packed heat when he went into the city, and he was always so careful about keeping guns out of reach.

    • Thank you, Stacie. That is so nice of you to say.

      I’ve always believed it was easier to lose her so young than to have been a teenager like my brother and sister, although I sure do wish I had a memory or two of her.

      I’m glad I wasn’t a tumor too. Isn’t that hilarious?

  4. Girl, your writing is on FIRE. First, you are cute as a damn button and so is your pops. I love this story– so understated and devoid of self-pity. I love your admiration for a complex man. War really wounded my father too, in ways I will never understand. He’s still around, but I am scared to touch the scars. Brave and beautiful post.

    • Touch them, mama. Really. You will regret it if you don’t. My dad has been gone six years, and I wish every day that we had found our way back to each other sooner. I miss him like crazy.

      Thank you so much for the lovely compliments!

  5. That was beautiful. It was such a great depiction of your dad. It wasn’t a glossing over of things, but a real look at who he was, and who you are because of him. Well done!

  6. Loved this. Lose the “father’s daughter” final line and it’s perfect. It’s sometimes okay to leave the ending unwrapped, un-ribboned.

    Your dad was all kinds of complicated wonderful.

  7. I’m blown away by the poignant simplicity of your writing here. Your words took my breath away. As someone who also craves order and routine, I admire how you forgave and came to understand, even identify, with your complicated father, a feat I have yet to accomplish. Well done, beautiful mama!

    • Thanks so much, Mary. I am so thankful my father and I came to know and appreciate each other before he died. You’re right; he was a very complicated man. It took me having children of my own to understand him as a parent.

  8. I indentified with this post on many levels. My Dad and Grandpa were vets. My Dad died almost 4 years ago this December and there are so many ways we were alike.

    I also had a child at 41, and it made me smile to look at your picture with your Dad and wonder if that’s how my husband will look when my son is your age. I pray we will have a matching picture, but there are no guarantees, which is mainly why I started my blog. I wanted to make sure my son knew the stories of our family.

    Your post was written beautifully. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Thank you so much, Kenja. Your comments made ME smile.

      You were so smart to start the blog when you did ( didn’t start mine till March of this year). I sure wish I had thought of it earlier. It would have been wonderful to capture my dad’s and aunt’s stories while they were still around to tell them.

      Your son will treasure all the memories someday, and so will his children.

  9. What a life you’ve had. How sad that you lost your mom so very young. My parents are both gone. But we maintain their habits, don’t we, nonetheless. This is really a lovely post.

  10. Wow. This was beautiful. I can’t imagine what war does to people, but I can image the predictability of structure to be a huge comfort. I’m glad he, and you, found solace in that. Your own life sounds like it had its share of chaos. Loved this post. You have my vote!

    • Thanks, Kim. He was such a brave, proud man. A little bit John Wayne, but also a little bit Dean Martin (he loved his Manhattans and could tell a mean joke).

  11. Wow, I really enjoyed reading this homage to your father. I loved the arc you took with it, and the starkness of some of the words/phrasing. I did more than one double-take, not expecting to read about the suicide plane or your mom’s diagnosis/passing. Wonderful writing, my dear. Lovely.

    • Thanks so much, Peach. It’s quite a story, isn’t it? I forget about how dramatic some of the events are because, well, it’s my family, my life. I don’t know anything else.

  12. Structure is good – hide-bound is not; rootedness is paramount, rigidity will kill you. It’s hard to know how to balance between things that seem so similar. Your post makes me think about all the ways in which our family’s ghosts live on in us, for good or ill – and how we write (or don’t write) our own scripts, going forward.

    • Yes! I see so much of my dad in myself, good and bad. I don’t remember my mom, so not sure about how she figures in. I think being aware of how those ghosts live on in us can help us write the script, don’t you?

  13. Wow. What a lot of emotion in this post. It’s a beautiful photo of you and your father. You had me all over the place with this — happy and relieved and heart-broken. Prayers and blessings for you.

  14. My great uncle was a Detroit cop during the riots. And my grandparents lived in Detroit until the nineties (mainly because my grandfather was DFD). It was a crazy time, and the one tangible huge event of Detroit’s downfall.

    It’s funny the ways in which we are like our parents. It’s never predictable how we’ll be the same, and how we’ll end up different. Beautiful post.

    • Thanks so much. Too bad we can’t get our two former Detroit cops together to talk. I’m sure that between them they’d have tons of stories to share.

      I love and miss Detroit. It’s where I spent most of my leisure time as a teen and young adult. We had to look hard for fun, but we always found it. The challenge was part of the thrill.

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  16. Oh wow. What an emotional read!
    This was beautiful. I love that it was full of personal stories, some light hearted and some not so.
    Thanks for sharing such a personal part of yourself. I thoroughly enjoyed this post.

  17. A friend of mine says you don’t know how routinised you really are until you have kids, and I am finding that I am really starting to appreciate my mother now I have them too.

    I enjoyed this. A lot, efficiently conveyed.

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  19. We are all just a small part of all the pieces that have come before, and all those experiences give us our voices as writers. We all have a story to tell; how fortuitous that you have the wisdom to share it with us so beautifully.

    • Thank you so much, Kim. I have often said that I wouldn’t change anything that’s happened in my life, good or bad. Each event brought me to the place I am right now, and I am grateful for that.

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