"He Helped Me Find What It Was I Loved"

What I remember of my father are the dark suits he wore and the tired way he came home in the evening. He seemed beaten down by something, something large and sharp, and I wasn't sure what that was. My mother used to say, "He comes home late because he gets very tied up at the office," and, in the literal-minded way that small children think, I pictured him roped and cuffed to his swivel seat, and this seemed terrible to me. He was frail and pale and needed protection. I used to bring him offerings: a pale green shoot, a clear cup of water, a serrated shell from the beach.

When I turned 10, I fell in love with horses. I fell in love with their dry, velvety noses, their thick pink tongues, and the way a canter felt when I sat deep in the saddle. My mother, a strict woman, forbad me lessons: Jewish people, she said, did not ride horses; they played tennis or golf. I pined and pined. I read Black Beauty again and again. And while my mother forbad me my passion, my father welcomed it, aided it, perhaps because he sensed that through passion we find our freedom, the highest expression of self. He was all tied up, but for his daughter, he wanted room to run.

He was a frail pale man and wouldn't cross my mother's mandates in any direct way, but whenever she left town he would sneak me out to the stables. I remember him coming to my room in the earliest part of the dawn: I remember the whisper of wheels on the wet road as we drove from suburb to country; I remember the sweet smell of dung, the hot blasts of a horse's breath. I remember how he stood by the fenced-in field and watched me, my father, still in a dark, serious suit, the sleeves too big, brass buttons winking in the dawn. Month after month, year after year, he helped me find what it was I loved: He drove me there; he watched me take the four-foot fences, the horse surging forward, me hunched high up on the neck as I entered the air.
—Lauren Slater

Next: Learning from an overachieving father


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