I love this photo of my father.
Christmas Day, Dad with his red suspenders, wearing his brand new red plaid flannel shirt, reading glasses in his pocket, that shock of coarse, thick hair, just about to speak.
Being one of the oldest of his children, the second of eleven, I have other memories of him, too.
I remember my Dad when he was young, gangly and a little bit shy, with a wide grin and a big joy in life.
I remember when Dad would never leave the house without giving my mother a big kiss good-bye…when he’d come home tipsy and try to charm and tease the scowl from her face…when they’d snuggle together on the couch while watching the news.
As a young man, Dad was lanky and strong with a quick stride that we struggled to keep up with. He had long arms hanging from broad shoulders. In motion, he seemed all elbows, wrists and big hands.
He’d chuck us under the chin, or use his knuckles to rub the top of our head, or grab our knees to make us squeal.
He’d reach out – quick as a striking snake – to cuff the ear of a child whispering in church.
He’d scoop up a small child to place her on a shoulder as he set out walking.
Or throw one over his shoulder “like a sack of potatoes.”
Or grab one to hold up by the feet, to “shake the dickens out of you.”
He’d carry a little one in the crook of his arm.
Sometimes he’d just reach down to offer a hand to hold as we crossed the street.
With such a large family, it seemed like he’d always have a little one to tease and fuss over.
Dad was always quite surprised at our “growing up.”
We did, though.
Children gave way to grandchildren, who also remember the tickling and other tortures he’d administer, when he caught them…and then great-grandchildren.
Christmas, when all the family gathered, was extra special for Dad.
For years – maybe twenty – he’d say, “this could likely be my last Christmas, you should come.” If we had other plans, or if traveling home was not in the budget, we’d rearrange, in order to be there. If a few of us were not getting along at the time, we’d put our disagreements aside for the sake of a good holiday. Dad would usually indulge in too much food and drink, which would make Mom angry, and add another layer of tension to the day.
Still, he would greet us all warmly, beam at the little ones, twinkle at our conversations, allow the toddlers to open his presents for him and bask in the pleasure of his big family around him.
That’s why I like this photo.
Today is my Dad’s birthday.
Though he’s been gone from this life for years, his influence is still a big part of my life, and I think of him often.
Happy Birthday, Dad!