Some of my Facebook friends have recently posted some Father’s Day thoughts that were more ache than memory – accounts of absentee fathers, dads who were never there, dads who didn’t care. It makes me realize all the more how blessed I was to have the father I had for the time that I had him.
This isn’t to one-up my friends who have father issues. I hurt for them because I was blessed with one of the good dads, and wish I could have shared him. I guess I’m writing this to inspire the rest of you to think about your fathers. If they have a list like this coming, perhaps it’s time you made one. And most importantly, if they’re still around, perhaps it’s time to share it with him.
1) My dad dropped out of high school. I didn’t know this until after he died – he kept it a secret from me, and rightly so, I suspect. It explains a lot about how he spent his life, always seeking to learn new things. He taught himself calligraphy, how to brew beer, and even invented his own chili recipe. He did dozens of other things, too, all with only the help of books from the public library.
2) My dad was a great carpenter. When I was a junior high brat, we went to one of those tourist trap shacks where the gravity is supposedly screwed up. They showed us a two by four full of nails, most of which had been bent during hammering. The tour guide said, “I’ll bet you can’t drive a nail straight. It’s because of the gravity.” I tried and the nail bent right over. Then my dad took the hammer. After the third nail sank in the wood up to the head, the tour guide suddenly said, “And over in this next room, we have…” That was one of those cool moments where I thought my dad could do anything in the world. And I think of him every time I try to nail two boards together and they end up out of plumb.
3) When I was in first grade or so, I sent off some money to a kid’s magazine and got a kit to make my dad a present for Father’s Day. It was in the shape of a medal, only big – about ten inches long and four across, with all sorts of fake jewels set into it and a large cardboard piece that said, “WORLD’S GREATEST DAD”. He said he liked it so much he was going to wear it when he went golfing with one of his clients. When he got back that evening, he had a huge smile on his face as he told me, “There wasn’t one other daddy on the golf course that had one of these.” When I looked at the medal, it was dirty and worn and some of the fake jewels had fallen off. And that meant the world to me because I knew he had actually worn it, on the golf course, all day long.
4) I think my dad wondered what to do with me sometimes. I remember him trying to teach me things like how to golf and bat, but it turned out that even though I’m right handed, I do many things left handed, and they didn’t have left handed kid golf clubs back then. I was physically inept, and not much of a carpenter, but at least I paid attention when I helped him build stuff. He supported me in the things I turned out to be good at – he sat through plays when I had a bit part as a window cleaner; he admired the trophies I brought home from the speech team; and he read all the science fiction novels he lived to see, and commented on them, even though I knew he hated science fiction and would rather have been reading a western.
5) My dad could read a book, watch a football game on TV, and listen to a high school football game via a transistor radio plugged into one ear. And at any given time, he could tell you what was happening in any given one.
6) The tube on the TV might spend months fading into oblivion… but we always managed to get a new set in time for football season.
7) I laugh at things nobody else thinks are funny. My wife has gotten used to having this happen in public places. I inherited this from my dad. One time he came to see me in another play (I had a bigger role this time) and one of the lines really set him off. He laughed for the next ten minutes, upstaging everyone in the cast. “Who is that guy laughing out there?” the director moaned. “It’s my dad,” I confessed. But secretly it made me very happy.
8) I learned to be a good husband from my dad. He always made sure that he maintained an exclusive relationship with my mother, even though they had kids. They would always go out to dinner together at least once a month. When I got old enough, they would buy me a steak at the grocery store and I would cook it myself while they went out to dinner. That was a big deal for me. Dad would hold hands with mom when we went places together. He’d also buy her clothes for Christmas and Birthdays. I’d do that for my wife, but I have absolutely no eye for color. That’s what gift certificates are for.
9) My parents met on a train when he was a soldier during World War II. If that sounds romantic, it was, although crafty person that he was, he sort of engineered it. Theirs was a storybook meeting and courtship, accomplished mostly through writing letters and the occasional rare phone call.
10) My dad was an ordinance officer in World War II. He taught other people how to blow things up.
11) In a politically incorrect sort of way, I owe my life to the Atom Bomb. After VE day, America began to gear up for the invasion of Japan. My dad was pulled from ordinance duty and trained to be a tailgunner on a B-24. Not an enviable place to be. He got his orders to fight in the Pacific and got on the train to ship out. When he got off the train at his destination, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was in all the headlines. The war was over.
12) My dad had this odd way of whistling when he was working with his hands. He’d blow air between his teeth and tongue, and it would come out not so much a full blown whistle as a musical sort of hiss with some whistleish overtones. I catch myself doing that sometimes. I suspect I do it more that I realize.
13) My dad died 6 weeks before my daughter was born and The Company Man was published. But he’d read the book, and Desperate Measures as well, the former in galleys and the latter in manuscript form. I knew that his time was probably short, and wanted to make sure he knew that this writing thing of mine wasn’t a one-shot deal.
14) My dad died at age 66, thanks in part to smoking. I figure I’m owed 10 years somehow. But it’s funny – even though he could be considered a cigarette casualty, I’m still libertarian when it comes to smoking. After all, no amount of money is going to give me that 10 years, and it would be an insult to my dad to deign to put a price on them.
15) My parents were close friends with a couple who were known for their warring ways. The oldest son of that couple once told someone, “I wish that Charlie Faust had been my father.” I can think of no higher honor for a man, and as a result, I’ve always tried to treat other people’s children with respect. No easy feat for me, since one of my claims to fame is that I don’t have much use for kids other than my own.
16) I still miss my dad. Every day.
Maybe I’ll do one of these about my mom for Mother’s Day. But be patient, it might take me a couple of years. That wound is still pretty fresh.