Sunday, June 19, 2011
A tribute to my Dad.
My brother Gene and I were among the world’s most blessed kids when we were growing up. We had parents that excelled at parenting. They could have written the book. I could write about both of them, but since this is Father’s Day, I’ll concentrate on Dad.
I don’t remember my Dad ever laying a hand on me except in love, and my brother only once. And I’m not sure how he did it (I certainly never achieved this!), but he also never raised his voice. Yet—he could stop us in our tracks if we were doing something wrong. One soft word, and we quit whatever it was. He exemplified strict love.
I also don’t remember Dad saying he loved me, but he showed it over and over. I remember him reading the Sunday funnies to me (Sunday comics to most folks). He could really make “Pogo” come alive. I remember fishing trips to the river. The only fish I ever caught all on those trips was a bullhead, a small trash fish whose main talent was anchoring itself behind a piece of brush or a rock when caught. I remember float trips on the Salmon River (in Idaho). I swear, Dad deliberately steered our rubber boat into the splashiest waves. We always came back soaked.
Dad worked harder and longer than most people I’ve met. In my lifetime, I’ve only known two or three other people who worked more hours for no extra pay. His work ethic exceeded anyone else’s. He’d leave at about 6 or 7 am for the courthouse (he was the County Recorder), come home for a quick lunch and supper, then walk back to the courthouse after supper for another three hours. He’d be back in time to say goodnight and watch the 10 o’clock news.
All this being said about the world’s greatest dad, Dad did have one major problem. He was an alcoholic—a binge alcoholic. He’d go a month or two or three (once even a couple of years) with nothing alcoholic to drink, then binge for a day or two.
Rarely longer than that. Those times spelled misery for his wife and kids. His personality went from a highly intelligent, loving father and husband to being stupid and selfish. When he started on one of these binges, I didn’t like this person he became, even though I loved him immensely at other times. Which was most of the time, after all.
After I grew up, Dad (and Mom) were always there whenever something special happened. They managed to stay awake for the birth of Renae, who took 29 hours from start to finish. They traveled 250 miles to be there when I co-starred in a local theater production. Weddings, graduations, and funerals, they attended all.
One time when we visited, the boys (my two sons) decided to play in the car. Which normally was just fine—but this time, Brett (the older boy), shifted the automatic transmission out of park and apparently into either neutral or drive. There is a definite slope to the road in Challis, Idaho, and the car began rolling. Dad saw it, and ran to stop the car. Ran despite a serious problem in one of his ankles. Stopped it by catching the by now swiftly rolling car (probably about 15 mph by then), opening the driver’s door, moving Brett out of the driver’s seat, jumping in, and applying the break. The car traversed nearly to the intersection with the next street. Dad sustained a cut to his already injured leg, but didn’t even mention it until someone noticed the blood on his pants. I have no doubt he would still have run after the car and stopped it even if it meant his life.
Dad had a unique talent with his grandkids. I talked to my kids about their memories, and these things stood out to them. Granddad wanted to be with them. There never seemed to be anything more important he had to do. They played checkers, shared lemon drops and peanut clusters, or maybe just napped together. He shaved with them in the morning, dousing them with his shaving lotion when he finished. They’d come running to me and say, “Smell me, Mom.” So I would take a healthy sniff, and then I’d say “Ew, you smell just like Granddad.” A game they never tired of.
And despite the fact that my Dad was a very good-looking man with eternally dark hair (only two or three gray hairs in his entire lifetime), he lacked any vanity at all. Not that he dressed sloppy—nope, he was always neat as a pin. Not that he continually demeaned himself—never heard him do that nor brag either. But—he had dentures from the time he was around 40, and one of the big delights among the grandkids was helping Granddad put the glue in his teeth in the morning. Me? I stopped letting my grandkids see me without my false teeth when my granddaughter said, “You don’t look like my grandma anymore.”
Dad ate the same breakfast for 99% of his mornings—Bran Flakes with half-and-half. This became “Granddad’s kind of cereal,” and all the grandkids thought anything Granddad ate had to be good. Granddad’s kind of cereal and the half-and-half disappeared fast when grandkids came to visit. And ice cream before going to bed. Traditions.
Before Christmas Dinner...
We always spent Christmases at Grandma and Granddad’s house. Where they lived, sometimes the travel there could be slippery, blinding, and hazardous. But they loved having us there so we braved whatever road and weather to be there. Including that final Christmas for him. He died on Christmas Day, his favorite holiday, in the afternoon, about 3 pm.
After Christmas Dinner!
You know that song, “The Wind Beneath My Wings?” I wish Dad were still here. I’d sing it to him.