This year I am 31 years old. 31 years of living, of learning, of mistakes and try again’s – of growing and experiencing and loving. I have seen so much change, and my life has at times been unstable…in true gypsy fashion; the path of a wanderer is often uncertain. Of the things in my life that have held strong and true however, at the top of it all is one person. My dad. Today is his birthday, and I’ve spent the morning thinking about what I can do from 2,000 miles away to let him know that there is no word that could be printed in a card to convey how special he is, and to thank him for the love and support he has given me.
My dad and I, we have done some living together. Adventuring, I like to call it. We have seen highs and down and dirty lows, he has shopped for prom dresses and horse trailers and sifted shavings and shoveled poop and built me a barn, he has picked me up from the holes I have dug myself into and dusted me off, telling me to keep at it and push forward. “Heath, you’re not a quitter.” No, I am not a quitter…because I am, in so many ways, my father. Dad started his life over after he and my mom divorced; and started his own business. If you ask my father today, he makes very little of the things he has done; but I know where he started, and now people come from all over the country to have him build their homes – not only because he is a gifted builder and designer, but because he is a good man, the best man; and people can see it from the moment they shake his hand. My father is so, so strong. One of the things I remember from my earliest years was my dads huge arms, and his tattoos. He used to have this big eagle on his arm, and I always thought that it made him look so tough, tougher than the other dads. He always, and still does, wear his hat backwards when he works, and every single one of my friends had a crush on him and thought he was the coolest dad ever. I watched my dad work midnights at the paper mill, and then get up and work construction by day so that we could have a beautiful home (that he built), so that I could have horses, so that my brother could have a four wheeler and play hockey, so that every year we could go school shopping and Dad and I could go to the Gap and he could pick out my wardrobe…because quite honestly, for the first 25 years of my life (and still at times, though I’ve finally got the hang of dressing myself), my father had better fashion sense than I did. My dad has always driven a great truck – a Ford truck. I learned how to drive in my dad’s white F-150 flare side; ‘White Lightening’. He let me drive the truck up and down the roads of the Acres were we lived, after picking me up from my grandparents house downtown where I would hang out during the afternoons – watching Days of Our Lives with my Gram and Gramp. He is a mirror of my Grandfather in so many ways, and after losing my Gramp over 10 years ago, and my Gram this year, it only stands out to me more how important my Dad’s strength is to my entire family. That strength that I thought was all in his arms when I was a little girl is so, so much more. Even though he is the youngest by far, the family calls him for advice, they call him to handle things, they look at him when things are falling apart…and he is always there, standing, unwavering, even when he has every right to fall to pieces. Whenever the Earth begins to shake, he stands strong.
Over the past few years I’ve taken to calling the long conversations Dad and I have, like clockwork, every time I’m home – ‘Jod-erventions’ – and quite honestly, if you’re stumbling in life…you should look him up and sign yourself up for one. They work. Some of my most frustrating and enlightening times are 1am conversations with my father about work, about kids, about marriage, about where my life is going and what I want for it. He thinks that they’re just a pain in my tail, but what he doesn’t know is that I actually look forward to them, and what he has to say. People often survive hardship in life, because we are, as a rule, much more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. The key, however, is what you do with that aftermath. Will you continue to just survive, or will you flourish? My Dad chose the latter. He came through hardship and stood on a crumbled foundation, and made a decision to rebuild. He rebuilt a life, not only for himself, but in that rebuilding, he laid the foundation for me in ways he’ll never fully know. He rebuilt, and he always pushed forward. He did not quit, and never opted for the easy road, for no rewards worth having come from traveling the easy road. He taught me to be truthful, with myself first, and with others. When friends were telling their parents elaborate stories to get out of the house on the weekends, I was asking for exactly what I wanted to do, and having conversations about good choices and being safe and drinking and drugs and consequences while others were locking those talks with their parents away in the furthest corners of their closets. We were being honest, because it was just us…and we couldn’t afford not to be. As I have moved forward in life, my dad has continued to be honest with me, telling me when he thinks I’ve made a bad decision (even when I’d rather not hear it), telling me when he thinks I need to make a change, when I’ve done well, telling me he doesn’t understand how people afford to live their crazy Californian lifestyles, while I tell him I don’t know how people can survive the frozen north and driving 40 minutes to the grocery store. I can tell him anything, I call him for everything, and he has never failed me, from giving me the groundwork for life to talking me through changing out the skill saw blade over the phone because I didn’t know I needed an allen wrench instead of a screw driver. Brillant, I know. He loves his life, does exactly as he pleases, and apologizes for nothing he isn’t genuinely sorry for. He is Papa to my baby boy, the most handsome man in the North Country, ‘Big Perk’ to all of the guys, baby brother to my Aunts and Uncle, the defender of our family, the keeper of promises and my heart of hearts…and when you say ‘Jody Perkins’ around town, people all smile and have something good to say. My dad is a man’s man, a daughter’s hero, and the best friend a person could ask to have. The older I get, the more my father comes out in me; and the more I am grateful for each and every difficult day, every time he has told me my idea isn’t great, and every time he has been quietly proud when I’ve been successful, because I don’t need him to say much. I can tell, and I hope that he can as well.
Because he has loved me, I am strong. I live boldly and without fear, I am willing to work and sweat for the things I want, and I am never, every sorry. Because my Dad has loved me, I know how to love unconditionally. Because my Dad has loved me, I value my strength as well as my mind, and am not afraid to go toe to toe for what I believe in. Because my Dad has loved me, I live each day hoping to be a better version of myself…I hope that one day my son looks at me and see’s the same strength, the same conviction and character, and the same unfaltering love that I see in my father.
Happy Birthday Pops. You’re my shining star.