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My dad doesn’t buy gifts.

A child of the Great Depression, he’s always been kind of awkward about buying and giving stuff.

Gifts for birthdays, Christmas, and other occasions always carried his name on the card, but it was our mother who shopped, wrapped, and presented.  My dad always protested that he was just saving the environment and/or he was opposed to acquisition for Hallmark events.

Dad’s signature on every card was the real deal, and for that, I am more grateful than ever.

My dad has a great sense of humor, so his signature was always accompanied by a quip, a joke, or a funny quote.  Lately, it’s been joined by a manmade paw-print, to send love too, from Max, my parents’ Bichon.  (Also known as “the little prince”.)

It’s not surprising, then, that I cherish the few things my father chose himself, and gave, awkwardly, at some landmark moments.

One is the pen that was his most prized retirement gift.

“Guess you might want this,” he said, offering it casually.  “I’m not using it. I have lots of pens.”

It’s engraved with his first name, and the year: 2002.

I was leaving Canada — again — after two years of hospital and rehabilitation.  I had been broken, but I was healing, and leaving for a big fellowship in California.

Those two years were the most difficult of my life, and, although he never said it, I imagine they were tough for my Dad too.  Several times, he was told I was dead (after an alleged al-Qaeda attack, in 2002), or dying (my heart stopped during 2003 surgery), and we never discussed what that was like.  He didn’t come near the hospital, so I only imagine how it hurt, for him.

I used my Dad’s pen to take notes at one university, then another.  It was a small part of the giant change in my life — new degree, new career, new job, new country.

I carry it with me, always.

After graduation, I sent my father a long thank you letter, explaining how his pen had helped inspire me some days, when I was too tired to study, or too cranky to open another text.  I boasted that it helped get those critical As on assignments and exams that taxed my brain and my strength. (Hello, economics!)

I’m not sure if I explained that it meant the world to hold something in my right hand that connected me to his heart.