My three sisters and I always suspected that Dad would like to have a son. But we knew he didn't need one; he only needed Mom. That was evident in the way he'd come whistling up the walk, open the door, see all four of his daughters sitting in the living room and inquire, "Where is everyone?"
And everyone (aka Mom) only needed Dad. Recently, when I described my parents' devoted relationship to a friend, he surprised me by asking: "How did that make you and your sisters feel?"
"Well," I answered, "not like the Reagan kids."
Now that I think about it, I believe our parents' close bond provided us with a sense of security and structure. For sure, we knew we couldn't play one against the other (we knew because, like all kids, we tried). Our parents formed a circle, but - as Edwin Markham's poem defines - it wasn't a circle that kept us out but one that took us in. They had love enough to spare some for us.
If Dad felt outnumbered 5-to-1 or was smothered by all the rampant estrogen in our home, it showed only in that he tried to up the testosterone count by bringing male dogs into the family. Ranger, our black cocker spaniel was the first, quickly followed by a couple of pointer hunting dogs. My favorite of the pointers was a large white gentle dog named Spook. His entire name was The Prairie Spook, son of The Town Spook, grandson of The Village Spook.
Spook soon had a sidekick dubbed Bobby, the namesake of a boy I favored, but Bobby (the dog, not the boy) soon lost favor when Spook was hit by a car and, as he lay injured in the ditch, his not-so-trusty sidekick tried to finish him off. Before Spook recovered, Dad found a new home for Bobby.
As a father, Dad was cool. He never worried about making a fool of himself (it must run in the family) and one of my favorite memories is of Dad emceeing a PTA program in which a group of fathers wearing tutus leaped clumsily across the stage. Outfitted in top hat and tails, Dad raised his face to the ceiling and howled loud wolf-calls as the men flipped their tutus at the audience.
It was Dad who gave my sisters and me the scoop on the birds and bees, giving us far more information than we wanted or needed to know. He taught us to dance and he taught us to drive, giving up only on Lesta, who took her hands off the wheel and covered her eyes whenever an oncoming car approached. Several years after Dad's death, Lesta, then the mother of teenage daughters, passed her driver's test in California. Dad would be very proud of her ability to drive in freeway traffic.
I'm sure Dad was disappointed in my failure to learn to pilot his beloved little Cessna 140. Technically, I could pilot it; no real trick to keep it flying level in a clear blue sky. The problem came when he decided I was ready to try a landing and I descended so sharply that I almost snagged a power line with the wheels. I didn't take my hand off the stick to cover my eyes ... but I certainly wanted to!
Bette admits to being a bit of a wild child who put a few streaks of premature gray in Dad's hair. Had she been a son, her rebellion might have been overlooked. Yet now our family is in awe of Bette's strength of character in caring for her son who has MS. Dad didn't need a son with a daughter like Bette.
But it was Vicki who was determined to be the son that Dad never had, refusing to wear a dress until she was 5. She was so tough that you couldn't make her cry. When she broke her arm at age 6, the doctor anesthetized her to set it, claiming she would go into shock before she'd break down and cry.
None of Dad's daughters is an easy weeper, but that doesn't mean we can't occasionally be sissy-girls. One night when Ray was away and our boys were little, I awakened at 2 a.m. certain that I heard someone in the basement of our rural home. But did I call the sheriff? Nope, I called Dad. I'm sure he knew there was no one in the basement, but within 20 minutes, Dad - armed with his pistol and carrying a flashlight - was on my doorstep. That's the sort of thing dads do for their daughters.
L. Lew Henry was an only child, the last of his line with no male heir to carry the Henry name into the future. That is why I use it in my byline; I think he'd like that.