Happy Father’s Day!
I don’t always put up holiday posts from the back porch. The only other Father’s Day blog post I’ve ever posted, 5 years ago, summarized what I called “memory snapshots” of my dad, images that form the core of what my father was to me.
Those included seeing his broken and defeated countenance after his third son died, only 2 days old; his reaction to my 7-year-old brother Scott breaking his arm in the backyard; his pained sympathy for Scott as his daughter (and Dad’s granddaughter), Jessie, was dying; and the time he drove 90 miles each way without hesitation or comment to help me and Scott and his mother out with a roadside emergency.
Mostly, Dad was a silent, solid presence. But he could burst out laughing at a good joke, or funny movie. He loved Jonathan Winters and Father Goose and he ‘s the one who turned me on to Ralphie’s story a dozen years before they made the movie, A Christmas Story. His face would light up as he’d quote, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” He used to whistle a lot while working in his wood shop or tinkering with and fixing electronics when I was young, but that sorta stopped along the way. Probably, that was another effect of the lifelong smoking that would eventually kill him.
His relationship to me and my brother was forever shaped by his own father’s absence. It felt like he was always trying too hard to be a perfect father. He seemed to be expecting too much of himself in raising two sons. Sometimes, it felt like he was expecting too much of us, too. Not having a father to emulate made him all the more intent on doing it right, whatever that was supposed to mean. How was he to know how hard being a father could be? Especially raising two strong, willful sons in the crazy days of the 60s? Looking at the outcomes, I’d say he did a pretty damned good job navigating unknown, choppy, and sometimes dangerous waters.
In my memory, I see him smiling and laughing with his cigarettes and a beer. He’s reading some cheap paperback novel. He once bragged he kept the average reading level of America down by reading trashy books, buying them by the paper grocery bagful from cut-rate paperback bookstores, reading them 2 or 3 a night sometimes. He loved Spike Jones and Nat King Cole, both well represented in his impressive collection old 78 records.
My parents gave me a great life. And a huge part of the gift they gave me was that they left me feeling immensely and eternally grateful to them but never guilty about it. Too many people talk about being made to feel guilty about the sacrifices their parents made. My folks never once implied anything of the sort. I suppose that left me a legacy of not worrying too much about my own parenting. You give it your best, you call it a day, and you go to sleep at night, knowing it’s never over. To quote the movie, Parenthood, “You never cross the goal line, spike the ball and do your touchdown dance.”
So, thanks, Dad — you did great by me.