June 19, 2011

My Dad

In just a few minutes, it'll be Fathers' Day 2011.

Come November, Dad will be gone 20 years. I wish he was still here, but I also know he's in a better place than he ever could have imagined while he lived.

Dad would have been 87 last March 1. If he was still alive, those intervening years would have been hard on him. He was a diabetic with an insatiable sweet tooth. He'd already had bypass surgery, necessary the surgeon said, solely because he had smoked for 40-some years. When he was just a young man, around 30, I think, he'd had his back broken in an auto accident and it hurt him to spend extended periods on his feet. Additionally, five or six years before he died, Dad had fallen off a ladder while pruning the big tree in his front yard and broken his neck. Not in a way that threatened paralysis, but, probably due to his age, it never completely knitted.

I'd much rather have Dad around today, possible health problems notwithstanding, than not have him. But knowing him, Dad probably would not have wanted to live his last years with ever-lessening capabilities.

Dad was a proud man, you see. He came from a dirt-poor background, and told me several times that he did things in his youth he was not proud of. But he felt he had to, to get money to help feed his younger three sisters and brother. Although he never said so, I've long suspected that Dad didn't really get much of a childhood. And what he'd had, he never would have settled for his children.

That's not any sort of indictment of his mother and father. It was just the way things were. Different time, different mores, different values.

Dad was a quiet man, too. Never said much. When he did, though, my sisters and I took note. Intently. He was short, about 5'6", but he was stout. All shoulders and chest. When I was about 16, maybe, I had a pretty good mouth on me. One particular day, Mom and I had been having words. When Dad got home from work, she'd apparently talked to him. So, when Mom said something to me and I answered -- to this day, I don't remember what it was -- Dad was primed. As I walked by, he reached out with one hand, grabbed me by the shirt collar, lifted me off the floor and held me against the wall. I was just under six feet and probably 135 pounds.

"What did you say?" he asked.

I can't tell you what I replied as his eyes burned into mine. However, I can tell you what I thought -- and this is it exactly -- "I'm gonna DIE!"

That was the last conflict we ever had. Dad taught me that day, that no matter how big I got or how feeble and shrunken my parents might grow, they'd always get my respect.

Dad taught me so much more, as well. Patience, for example. He loved to fish, and we went at every chance, up until I got interested in team sports. By that time, though, I'd learned to sit quietly and pay attention to things.

Dad could fix just about anything, too. He'd had to. Growing up in the Depression meant not having the luxury of buying a new whatever-it-was when the old one broke, or even being able to pay a repairman. I didn't realize it at the time, but all those years I spent as his gopher -- "Go get me a 5/16 wrench." "Which one's that?" "It's the one in the box." "I can't find it" ...and etc. -- I was learning. Watching Dad, I learned not to be intimidated by an unfamiliar task. 
Dad taught me, as I like to say today, just enough about _____ to get myself in trouble. And just enough to get out again.

Dad was my hero. He was also my buddy, my advisor, my protector. At various times, I feared him, but I respected him, as well. Even when I thought he was being unfair or stubborn, I knew he was doing the best he could. And I loved him for that.

One of these days, don't know when, I'll get to see him again. Until then, I remember him on Fathers' Day, and thank the Lord Dad was in my life.

And maybe I'll just dance....