Happy birthday, Papa Bear!

It's my Papa Bear's birthday today!

I have always been the quintessential daddy's girl. And that's not hard, in my family, because my dad takes the cake for dad-dom. I'm his twin as far as appearances go...

...yep. No doubt who my father is.

From an early age, I have the best memories of my dad being super involved and present. Be it making Mickey Mouse waffles with M&Ms, teaching us to waterski and terrifying us behind the boat on inner tubes, grilling cheeseburgers in -20 below weather on my February birthday every year, or cracking us up with ridiculous songs on car trips, my dad would do anything to make his kids smile. His sense of humor verges on ridiculous nine times out of ten, but the number of times he's reduced us to wordless, breathless laughter couldn't be counted with all the time in the world. Our Papa Bear is unstoppable in his quest to bring fun, irreverence, and silliness into the family.

My dad's role in our childhoods was more than comical, though. I still have the Valentine box we made in kindergarten, when my dad came to be my date to the Valentine's Day party and turned my box into the envy of the rest of the five-year olds with glitter puff paint and more heart-shaped stickers than a Hallmark store. Let's not even get into the third-grade boat regatta, the fifth-grade egg drop, annual Science Fair projects, or the sixth-grade pumpkin-decorating contest. My dad defined the concept of "hands-on," and my memories of all those projects and hours spent together form a major focal point in my childhood. 

When I was eleven, Papa Bear fulfilled a lifelong dream and bought a cabin near his hometown on a beautiful lake. Over the course of that winter, he and a family friend gutted and totally renovated the place, creating a beautiful oasis on fifty feet of lakeshore that hosted so many bonfires, Fourth of July fireworks, and family dinners I couldn't count them all if I tried. At the cabin, Dad was king of his humble castle. The endless effort he put into making the cabin as perfect as he could for all of us was a living demonstration of hard work and care...his commitment to hosting friends and family never flagged. The ensuing twelve summers put Dad in his element...because we were guaranteed family time every weekend at the lake, and there was and still is nothing he likes better than being with us. 

Now that I'm all grown-up and living in the real world, we share a history in (and disdain for) public accounting and all the good, exciting stuff that comes from working in the world of finance. My dad and I have always been close, but as I've grown up and gone from being his mini-me appearance-wise to being his mini-me in more significant ways, our relationship has really matured and evolved. I love nothing more than being able to candidly talk to my dad about my professional trials, tribulations and triumphs, knowing he understands where I'm coming from. His shock that I ended up in the finance and accounting world, and his pride in how well I've done so far there, never ceases to make me evaluate my development and feel grateful for that success. 

Aside from childhood memories or professional ties, though, I think it was my college years that made me appreciate my dad the most. One of the greatest gifts my dad has given me, my sister and my brother is our educations. Even in the thick of a recession that decimated his industry, my dad was able to send all of us to top-tier schools, debt-free, and to give us the experiences that define who I am with open hands and so much joy in how much we loved college. Once upon a time about two weeks into my freshman year, I was en route from the band building to my dorm as the sun was going down, and I had an irrepressible urge to call him. I left what was probably the sappiest voicemail of all time, quivering on the verge of tears as I described the scene and thanked him for giving me this world.


He and my mom trekked to Notre Dame year after year: to move me into dorms the size of closets, to freeze their asses off and watch me in the marching band, and to dry my torrential tears and then make me cry all over again at all the pivotal events of my senior year...senior band plaiding, my last senior football game, and of course, graduation. So many of my favorite college memories involve my dad, starting with the very first: the moment he and I looked at each other at the bookstore on my prospective student visit, when I turned to him and said "Dad, I really, REALLY want to go here." His response? The biggest, most life-affirming hug, and a "Lizziebear, I know."

My dad's willingness to give me that world, and anything in the world that he can give, has defined my own attitude toward how to someday be a parent. It demonstrated selflessness, generosity, commitment to achievement, and at the most fundamental level, a bedrock of support that I've fallen back on more times than I care to admit. So on his birthday, here's to my Papa Bear, my twin, my mentor, my last line of defense when things get tough. I'll always be your little Cookie Monster, and if you're throwing your hands up, you better bet I'll be doing the same.