If I am a good communicator, and I’ve been told that I am, it comes from struggling to hold a conversation with my father. He wasn’t an easy man to talk to. He would announce without hesitation that my opinion was “bullshit” if he thought so. He would often loudly support a contrary viewpoint just for sport. He was quick to anger if he thought we were agreeing with him just to be compliant. Few subjects were worthy of his time and attention.
If I have a work ethic (I’m not always sure that I do!), I got it from my Dad.
Dad was a worker.
He was a good husband and father. He enjoyed all children, and was like a big kid at heart. He loved to tease and he enjoyed a good argument. He had a great memory, and was brilliant at card games because of it. He loved good food, simply prepared. He loved watching things grow. Dad liked John F. Kennedy, Cassius Clay, cowboy shows and Big Time Wrestling. He enjoyed a nap on a Sunday afternoon.
Dad did not like meanness, stupidity, dishonesty or laziness. He didn’t like long hair on boys. He didn’t like music if he couldn’t understand the lyrics, but he made us late to church one Sunday while he listened, with a grin, to “Harper Valley P.T.A.” on the radio. He never learned to swim, so was not especially fond of the water.
My father hated having his picture taken. At Dad’s funeral, my three-year-old grandson, Brandon, looked over the picture board. The only way his photo could be taken without him bellowing was to catch him when he was asleep… so there he was, dozing in his comfortable chair, or stretched out on the sofa, napping with my baby sister, Amy, or snoozing under the apple tree after driving all night to bring us up north. “Papa was dead?”, Brandon asked, as he pointed to one photo after another.
The truest statement I can make about my father, though, is that he was a worker.
He went to work and – when the job demanded it – would work seven days a week, twelve hours a day. On top of that, he’d plow up an acre or so of land and plant a big garden. He raised pigs, and chickens…and an occasional duck or rabbit as well.
Dad often took on extra jobs, for pay or not. He processed deer for hunters. He widened our road to make a shoulder for the children to walk on, on the way to the bus stop. He back-filled the swamp near our house, to keep the mosquito population down. I don’t believe my father ever took a vacation that wasn’t a working vacation. We’d go north to visit his parents on Beaver Island, but his week would be spent painting the farmhouse or tearing down the old barn.
His children were never left out. From their toddling years, the boys were charged with clearing stones and branches from the yard ahead of the mower. Not a stranger to housework, Dad often demonstrated the “correct” way to clean a window or polish the table, then would sit back and watch, to make sure we’d been paying attention.
Springtime was spent preparing the soil and planting the garden. In the summer, we were herded out to the garden to pull weeds out of the stubborn clay soil. In the fall, he’d load us all into the back of his truck with a huge pile of burlap sacks. Arrangements had been made for us to hand pick cob corn from the farmer’s fields, after the mechanical picker had gone through. We’d use the corn to feed our pigs through the winter. It was a long day in the fields, but the ride home was atop mounds of full sacks of corn, and punctuated by a stop at the local tavern, where we’d each be rewarded with a coca cola and a dime for the jukebox. In the winter, Dad would – for lack of anything better to do – build elaborate, icy sledding ramps in our backyard.
As adults, we often disagreed with Dad’s methods and moods but if we needed help with a move, a repair or a remodel, he was on the task.
It’s hard to believe he’s been gone almost fourteen years! If a frost comes late, or I see a coyote, or I count six deer on my way to town, Dad is still the one I want to share that with.
Happy Father’s Day!