Papa Bill’s Pancakes

by Emily Kent
inspired by TBAWP’s 2020 Heritage Lunch

When I was young, my dad was a superhero. He could do no wrong, and despite his unshakeable exterior, he had a soft heart that could take one look at me and ask me if I needed time to cry, if it had been too long since I’d let go of my attempt to hold everything, and if it was time for me to share Atlas’ burden with him for as long as I needed.

He was an amazing dad to me and to any of my friends. In fact, they often flocked to my house, and sometimes I wonder if it was less for the pushy little girl with the large hair and larger spirit that gave them tests and practiced being a teacher and more for the parent who took them seriously, who listened to their problems and gave real world advice, and who made them feel special by allowing them to be vulnerable and by showing them how terribly grown up being vulnerable is.

The sleepovers at my house were legendary. Whether they took place in a camping tent that my dad had painstakingly set up in the living room or between my sister and I’s rooms, the floorboard creaking each time we ran between the rooms and only drawing out my dad when it had passed midnight, they always ended the same way: with Papa Bill’s pancakes.

While we ran amuck in the house, making floorboards creak, dogs run, and ears ring from the sound of attempted karaoke, my dad prepared pancake mix for the next morning. He would mix all of the ingredients together, wrap the bowl in saran wrap, and lay out the skillet for the next morning. 

Saturday mornings turned into a gossip session with my dad while we each tried to create pancakes in whatever shape we wanted. Minnie mouse, elephants, lightning bolts, there was no limit to our imaginations and no limit to my dad’s careful attempts to fix a shape that had disappointed us, often leaving it even messier but taking the weight of the failure. 

As he navigated our creative pancake creations, he would stand and listen, asking follow-up questions when needed and giving advice when asked. Looking back, it was a group of preteens trying desperately to grow up and a grown up teaching them to appreciate their childhood and taking them seriously enough to show them adulthood. 

Looking back at these memories is like keeping a firefly in a jar; it’s filled with light but it’s not yours to hold on to. The pancake mix stopped flowing when my dad remarried and two new daughters who called him Papa Bill entered the house full time, and my sister and I got to see him part time. But it was okay because they needed him a lot more than we did, right? and we were going to be okay no matter what, right? but they needed my dad to learn to be okay. 

It took a long time to realize that my dad is always my dad, but my dad is also human. Holding him in a jar and asking him to shine light whenever I need isn’t any way to treat someone you love. It’s been a long time since pancake mix flowed, but I’ve seen times where it comes close, and I can see a time when it will again.

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