Thomas Eugene Curtis

I was a daddy’s girl. And there are so many of us. We are spoiled, and we are legion. So why the stereotype – you know the one — that says every guy craves a son to toss the ball to or go fishing with?

Have you been to the card store lately? Way too many of the offerings have something to do with a golf club. Look at the Father’s Day gift catalogs. See the variety of grills and gadgets, and that old standby, the brightly colored tie. There may be some truth to the scenario of sports-loving, hammock-lounging ruler of the roost – even if armchair quarterback is his favorite position. But that’s only part of the clichéd story.

When I was a toddler, a bit cranky and not ready for bed, it was my dad who would hold me in his arms and walk around and around – for hours – all the while murmuring a quiet refrain with words that mean little to anyone except me.

Dad was the one who cried. I saw the tears after my unfortunate accident involving roller skates, a manhole cover and unexpected downhill speed. The broken wrist? It was merely a distraction once I saw my dad run to my side, scoop me up and wail, “It should have been me.”

“Don’t cry,” I told him as he knelt beside me.

The story I’ve told before is all about Dad and the roller coaster, the one he proudly took me to ride – four times – right after the amusement park that hugged the border of Baltimore City (our side) and Baltimore County (theirs) opened to everyone. It was as soon as lawyers and courts made the owners open its doors to blacks, but I didn’t understand any of that. I knew that the dad I had begged to take me on the rides could finally say “yes” to his little girl. It made him as happy as it made me, in my dress and hair ribbons. And when I asked why the other families on a Sunday outing stared at us (not mean, just curious), he told me it was because I was so pretty.

OK, so by now my dad sounds like a softie. That’s not it at all. He raised himself after his mom died when he was 7 and his working and overwhelmed dad couldn’t quite handle four young children. He quit school after eighth grade, yet somehow got himself an education, a beautiful wife, a job as a stationary engineer and five kids he sent to college. He worked two and three jobs – waiter, bartender, whatever it took – and hardly ever took a day off. But he was there for us, even if at the school play he took a nap in between “our” scenes.

Dad had a wicked sense of humor we all inherited. And, as the youngest, I had the gift of a mellower Thomas Eugene Curtis, though the rough edges never quite smoothed out – thank goodness.

I think by the end of his not long enough life, he was at peace. He knew that without much guidance, he had gotten it right.

All he had to do was ask me.