Today is Father’s Day and earlier this week was my dad’s birthday. He would have been 80 this year. He went on to his happy hunting grounds 10 years ago. Looking at some pictures on his birthday, I couldn’t believe he’d been gone that long! If he walked through the door today, I wouldn’t be surprised. On this Father’s Day, I thought today might be a nice time to write about him.
Harry Joseph Hanley was fourth generation Irish. His family left during the famine and settled in Maine. He grew up in Maine and then New Hampshire in relatively poor circumstances but was given a work ethic like nobody’s business. He and mom met in third grade, grew up together, married after high school and a short stint in the army and raised 5 kids. We traveled from the east coast to the west coast numerous times and lived for many years in Texas and Oklahoma, not because of the military but because both my parents were curious, adventurous people.
My dad was not necessarily an easy man. He was intelligent and witty but had an opinion about everything. And if your opinion didn’t agree with his- you were wrong. He wrote poetry, played guitar, drank too much and was a staunch defender of his family. Which is a good segue into a particular memory I have of him.
I have many memories of Dad. Some awesome, some less so, but the one memory that always reminds me that one of the roles dads play to us is that of defender.
When I was in 6th grade, we lived on Amador Street in Westminster, California. We lived at the end of the street and I had two friends, twins, who lived on the other end. They had a built in swimming pool. And chinchillas. In the middle of the street lived an evil dragon girl. She has a name, but I won’t reveal it. We’ll just call her evil dragon girl. She was big and she was mean. I was not big and I was more on the meek side. Evil dragon girl tormented me constantly. One day, the twins wanted me to come to their house and swim in their pool. I wanted to go so badly, but I knew if I walked down the street, evil dragon girl would pounce on me, so I declined.
My father asked why I wasn’t going and I told him that evil dragon girl would beat me up. I saw his face flush, his eyebrows shoot up. Uh, oh.
“Give me five minutes and you head down to the twins house,” he said before heading to the garage, jumping on his Yamaha motorcycle and leaving. I didn’t know what he was doing, but did as I was told. I gave him a few minutes and headed down the street, swimsuit in hand.
Sure enough, evil dragon girl sauntered out of her house; I swear she must have been watching for me, and got all in my face. Her taunts were verbal at first, but she started to get a little pushy. What happened next was like out of a movie.
I heard the roar of a motorcycle and saw that green Yamaha flying down the street toward us. My superhero dad jumps off the bike, dumps it in the street and grabs evil dragon girl by the scruff of her neck and pulls her away from me. “If you ever say another word, or lay a hand on my daughter, I’ll kick your ass all the way to China,” he bellowed.
She raced to her house in tears, scared half to death while Dad had me get on his bike and we went home.
Now, I’m not saying it was the best way to deal with evil dragon girl, and later that day her mother came to our house and had a few words of her own for Dad, but in that moment, I was so proud of my dad for defending me. He had my back. He would protect me. He was my hero.
I miss you Dad. I miss talking (and arguing) with you. I miss trips to Maine with you. I miss your barbecued ribs (but not the dreaded crab cakes). I miss sharing a glass of whiskey with you, even though we shouldn’t have. I miss you. And I thank you for every single thing you did to raise and protect me and make me the person I am today.