My garage door provided a predominant fanfare of my childhood, announcing my father's spirited nightly arrival home from work in predictable fashion. It was a rather ordinary door: wooden slats painted white, visible with years of wear and tear, paint chipping from slightly warped slabs.
Tortured groans echoed from its springs in protest any time someone entered its dark quarters. Though loud and often obnoxious, the sounds emanating from any garage door quickly becomes a backdrop, unnoticed by household members distracted by incessant demands of daily living.
However, the sound of a garage door rising on its lift mechanism triggers physical warmth swelling up inside me. It starts in my stomach and spreads upward, manifesting in a quiet smile on my lips, likely undetectable to others; every single time.
I smile and I think of my father, who passed away two years ago, leaving me grieving but also with a substantial sense of feeling loved and with the confidence to believe that I could accomplish anything I chose to pursue. I still feel a unique comfort deep inside when anyone in my home pushes the garage door button, transporting me immediately to my 1970s kitchen from decades ago when I was 6 years old.
Anyone with listening ears could hear our loud door from virtually any room in the house. Like clockwork every evening, as my mother cooked dinner, signaling my dad's imminent arrival, I listened carefully in anticipation of the appointed time, waiting for the garage door to trumpet his homecoming.
As if on command, the instant the sound reached my ears, I ran screaming through the house, and positioned myself with spring-loaded action, preparing to use my gymnast legs to hurl myself into my father's arms. Breathless from screaming, "Daddy's home, daddy's home, DADDY'S HOME," I lurked behind the door from the laundry room, listening for his nearing footsteps in order to time my launch accurately.
The instant he stepped through the door, I leapt up, simultaneous with his lifting me toward him in one well-choreographed motion, entwining my arms around his neck. This was all prelude to his nightly query, delivered in his typical energetic style, as it had been the night before and the night before that and every night before that. "Is EEVERYBODY HAPPY??!!!!" he shouted, drawing out the first syllable as if to coax any reluctant bystanders into his exuberant mood. Walking toward my mother at the stove to kiss her cheek, his contagious tone sparked a smile on her face. It was pure magic. "YES, YES, YES, I'm happy!!!!!" I would shout, and giggle as he rubbed his burnt toast cheeks on my face and commented on my scratchy five o'clock shadow, eliciting more laughter.
When my father died, my brother spoke at his funeral. One of the first things he mentioned was that my dad woke us up daily by vigorously singing "Oh What a Beautiful Morning," somewhat intrusively for the early hour, and that he returned nightly from long days at work running his own company to announce his arrivals with a zesty, "Is everybody happy?" In fact, all six of us children had the same endearing memory of our father's nightly entrance and enthusiastic inquiry. If you weren't happy before he arrived, then you certainly were after he swept into the room with suggestive elation. The predictable arrival ritual generated similar feelings of safety and warmth and unconditional love in all of us.
Now that I am a mother of seven and fully appreciate the fatigue that accompanies long days, I am even more grateful for what must have been a sacrifice on his part. I realize that, tired or not, it was important to him to contribute an encouraging influence in the household when he came home. It worked. Those three words became a powerful utterance reaching us beyond his mortal absence. He successfully created a solid positive energy that is woven into our lives, demonstrating a father's ability to influence his children despite working outside the home in a demanding career.
Now, when my husband wants to cheer me up, he walks through the door, and attempting to imitate my father's intonations, bellows, "Is EVERYBODY HAPPY?!!!"
And every single time ... I feel like, in life and in love, I have arrived.
Lori Cluff Schade, Ph.D., is a licensed, practicing marriage and family therapist and supervisor and adjunct faculty member. Her research has been covered in national media outlets and addressed in television and radio interviews. More importantly, she is a mother of seven and owner of a metaphorical gray picket fence.