Maggie Adams believes she was born to be a writer (see Psalm 139:16)—but it took awhile for her to figure that out. She grew up in North Carolina, then went “up north” to college (to Virginia, then to New York). Unable to decide what interested her most, she majored in Spanish, anthropology, and English, and studied voice. It wasn’t until she married and her husband entered graduate school that Maggie figured out what she wanted to do with her own life. She’s been widely published in short fiction, short nonfiction, and poetry since 1986; she has also spent over a decade freelancing for multiple publishers as a manuscript reader, proofreader, and copy editor.
When I was a little girl, I thought my daddy was the handsomest, most amazing man in the world. He’d pick me up from my after-school program at St. Brigid’s still wearing his dark suit with gold braid, his stiff cap with its shiny brim and matching gold braid, and his black shoes buffed to such a shine that I could see my face in them when I looked down.
“Your daddy must be really special,” breathed my friend Deanna the first time she saw Daddy. “He wears such fancy clothes. Does he wear them all day, every day?”
I told her that he did.
“What does he do?”
“He helps some very important people,” I said, and I named several celebrities who lived in the Upper East Side high-rise where he worked as a doorman. I didn’t say that he was a doorman, though, because I didn’t understand how a job title that sounded so mundane could apply to my dignified, well-dressed daddy.
For Father’s Day, the year I was in second grade, my teacher assigned us an essay to be titled “My Hero: My Dad.” I didn’t think the assignment was quite fair because some kids in our class didn’t have dads living with them, like my friend Sammy, whose dad had moved out of their home and now lived in Florida with his girlfriend, and even Deanna, whose dad was what my mother called “shiftless” (when she thought I wasn’t listening, of course). Deanna’s father spent more time drinking than working, and when he got frustrated he would take off his belt and come after his wife and children with it. Sammy and Deanna’s dads weren’t heroes, and I didn’t know how they’d manage to write an essay with that title. I, on the other hand, had no problem. I was blessed to have the daddy I did—and I knew it.
The first time I actually saw Daddy at work I was in junior high school. It was Take-Your-Sons-and-Daughters-to-Work Day. He insisted that I wear my school uniform (“You wear the proper clothes for the job—and your job is to be a student, even today”), although he did let me wear an extra cap of his once we reached the apartment building where he worked.
I wasn’t surprised when I saw him open and close doors for the building’s tenants, or when I heard his shrill whistle and watched him hail cabs for a few. Although we lived in Brooklyn, I’d spent enough time in Manhattan over the years that I knew these tasks were part of what the job of doorman entailed.
I felt taken aback, though, when I observed one young mother, resplendent in designer outfit and pearls, hand her child to Daddy and say, “Here, Joe. Hold him for a minute, would you? I’ve got to get my phone out of my purse so that I can call his nanny—that lazy little brown-skinned girl—and give her what-for for running late today.” Never mind that “Joe” was the Americanized version of Daddy’s name, and he never went by “Joe” at home. But that cutting remark about the “lazy little brown-skinned girl” . . . Had she not noticed that my dad wasn’t Caucasian—or that he’d brought his own “little brown-skinned girl” to work with him that day?
Not an hour after she and her toddler son had left, an older woman and man arrived by limousine. As they entered the building, while Daddy held the door, the man barely inclined his head toward my father and said, “Help the driver with the packages in the trunk, will you, boy?” When I saw the man reach into his wallet, I secretly prayed that he’d be giving my father a tip that would at least partially compensate for the insulting way he’d spoken to him. I was sorely disappointed when he palmed a single dollar bill and then folded it in such a way that it looked more like two bills before he stuffed it into the breast pocket of my daddy’s gold-trimmed blazer.
“Yes, sir,” Daddy replied, his voice as smooth and calm and polite, and his demeanor as dignified as ever. “Right away, sir.” And he smiled at the bigoted man’s retreating back—his usual sweet smile that I was used to seeing directed toward my mother and brothers and sister and me.
When we sat in the break room, off of the lobby, eating our brownbag lunches later that morning, I asked, “Why do you act the way you do here, Daddy?”
“Why do I act what way, honey?”
“Why do you smile and help them and say ‘yes, sir’ and ‘yes, ma’am,’ even when they insult you and abuse you? It’s humiliating!” Tears welled in my eyes. “You’re better than this, Daddy. You’re better than they are!”
“Maria.” He sighed deeply. “Am I, really? Better than this? Better than these people? In whose judgment?”
“Mine.” I raised my chin defiantly and added, “God’s too, I’ll bet.”
He shook his head and sighed again. “Maria, you don’t know that. Neither do I. Whatever and however these people are is between them and the good Lord—and whatever and however I am is between Him and me. And I won’t have you judging any of us.” Daddy spoke sternly. “It’s not your place.”
My “place” was to be the best student I could possibly be, to get the best education I possibly could, according to Daddy. We kids—my brothers, sister, and I—were all academic overachievers. After graduating from St. Brigid’s, we all went on to good high schools and challenging colleges. One brother became a doctor, another a lawyer, the third an accountant; my sister became a university professor.
And I? I married my college sweetheart and decided to take some time off from the classroom. We had three children in four years, and I became a blissful stay-at-home mom. Who would’ve thought?
The other day, my daughter Hayley came home from school and announced, “We have to write an essay for Father’s Day.”
I thought back to my own essay “My Hero: My Dad.” There were more kids in her classroom with family situations like Sammy and Deanna’s than our peaceful, settled family situation, and I prayed that the teacher would be understanding about it if not every child would feel that they could write about their own fathers.
“I don’t want to write about Daddy, though,” Hayley said, breaking into my reverie.
“Oh? Why not?”
“I want to write about Grandpa,” she said.
Grandpa—she wanted to write about my father.
My dad no longer wears the uniform with the fancy gold braid and the spit-polished shoes, his dignified bearing has grown a bit stooped as he’s aged, and he’s long since retired. He’s still a handsome man, though—and I know it’s not my place to judge, but I can’t help but think that whatever and however he is must be pleasing to the good Lord.
I smiled at my daughter. “I think that would be wonderful.”