A precious gift from her father

Sometimes here at BoomerCafé, we like to hear a nice simple story about a baby boomer’s nice simple past. That’s what Erin O’Brien of Redondo Beach, California, has written for us. It’s about a gift from her father.

The summer sun was shining but I’d already gone to bed, my modus operandi ever since my broken heart. There was a knock at my bedroom door, and then my dad’s voice. If I didn’t answer, with luck he might go away. But the door slowly opened, so Iclosed my eyes to feign deep slumber.

Erin O'Brien

Erin O’Brien

“Are you already asleep?” Dad asked, puzzled, as he pulled up the chair that he’d rescued from a garage sale and refinished to its original state. I opened my eyes slowly in an attempt to appear incoherent and annoyed.

“I thought I’d take the day off Friday,” he said. My mattress shifted, as he moved from the chair to the edge of my bed. “I was thinking you might like to go on a trip, to San Diego, or San Francisco?”

I reached for my glasses, and pushed them up my nose. My dad was sitting there, as if I was still a little kid, and he’d come to saygood night.

“Are you trying to make me feel better?” I asked.

His expression relaxed into a smile. “Well, yes,” he admitted. “I guess I am.”

I nodded thoughtfully. San Diego was far, San Francisco even farther, far away from reminders of my boyfriend. Dad looked hopeful. “I’d like to go to San Francisco,” I decided.

Erin and her father on the Wharf in San Francisco, 1981.

Erin and her father on the Wharf in San Francisco, 1981.

He sprang to his feet. “I’ll make the reservations tomorrow morning!”

He seemed to feel better. I didn’t. He closed the door behind him, and I took off my glasses and went to sleep.

It was still dark Friday morning we left for the airport. Dad said San Francisco would be windy, so I wore my new wool blazer, my birthday gift from my parents. Dad had shown me where the cuff should meet my wrist, and given me the name of his tailor.

I’d brought my new camera that my dad helped me choose for my photography class. I’d saved $200 in restaurant tips for it. Dad knew little of cameras, but began researching them when I expressed an interest. At the camera store downtown he interviewed the salesman behind the counter for a long time before he allowed him to sell me a camera, a filter, and a case.

Photo booth snapshot of Erin's parents while they were dating.

Photo booth snapshot of Erin’s parents while they were dating.

It was my first airplane flight, and I was a little nervous, but Dad was nonplussed. On board, I noticed the other passengers were all in business attire, with brief cases and file folders. It was a commuter flight, my dad explained. Pressing my forehead against the window, I gazed into the clouds.

When we arrived at the San Francisco airport, Dad went to see about our rental car as I surveyed my new surroundings. There was a sign for the railsystem. Ironically, the acronym spelled out the name of boyfriend I was trying to forget. When my dad arrived with the car keys, he wondered what had caused my sudden mood change which reduced me to tears.

We strolled along Pier 39 as I ate shrimp with a lemon wedge and cocktail sauce out of a little paper boat. We wandered upstairs into a private club in Chinatown, unnoticed until the waitress brought the bill and asked for our membership cards. “It must have been your blazer,” was Dad’s compliment. We walked around and posed for a photograph someone took with my new camera. I managed a smile.

Dad, Erin, boats-1969

Erin as a child with her father. 1969.

For dinner Dad knew just the place: Alioto’s on the pier. At his urging, I ordered the lobster, market price, and a glass of milk. The waiter apologized, saying they were out of milk. “Then go find some,” my dad said pointedly. Our waiter returned a few minutes later with a glass of milk from the restaurant next door. I sipped the milk, but only nibbled the lobster. I had no appetite and was apologetic for being unable to eat the expensive meal.

Dad ordered coffee and started with the standard, “When I was your age…” as I waited to be enlightened. “Your mom broke up with me, and I carried a torch for her…” Mom’s version: she ran into Dad’s sister, sent him a St. Patrick’s Day card, and they were married within the year. I didn’t understand the correlation, but I listened, dabbing my eyes with the dinner napkin. And then, because he was my dad, he added, “Besides, I didn’t want him for a son-in-law!”

It turned out that Dad knew a lot about furniture, blazers, cameras, and restaurants, and yes, even a broken heart.

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