Father’s Day has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about him. I’ve written a book about the last 2 years of my mother’s life with hardly a mention of my dad, so Daddy, here’s a page for you. I promise, you’ll have a bigger part in my next book.
In Sunday School yesterday, we each had an opportunity to tell a story or what we learned from our fathers. My dad never met a stranger, and he always embraced the opportunity to help someone, even if it meant yelling out the car window, “Lights!” if he saw an oncoming car with the lights off at dusk. My dad was a blue-collar worker in machine shops, and he taught me the value of hard work and the work ethic that dictates “Get your work done before you play.” He taught me to love dogs of any size and color, but it wasn’t a real dog unless it was big and useful. He adored my mother. He grabbed every opportunity to hold her and give her bottom a little squeeze, even in front of me. I suspect there were other things going on that I couldn’t see. My parents weren’t perfect, however. While Mom would express her anger or frustration by throwing a dishcloth against the kitchen wall, Dad would retreat to the basement, sometimes for days, until he got over his mad.
My dad inadvertently taught me how to swear. They loved to tell the story of how we were driving somewhere when I was 3 years old, and the heater in the car had broken. It was freezing, and I suddenly declared, as only a 3-year-old can, “Deesus Twice. My finnies is cold.” I’m sure my mother rolled her eyes at my dad with that one.
Dad took pride in keeping our lawn well groomed and the envy of the neighborhood. In the summers, he worked diligently in the garden. I would sit on the garden wall and keep him company. Occasionally, on really hot days, he would have a bottle of beer sitting on the wall, and he’d take a swig now and then. So would I. Again, I was about 3 when I had taken more than a sip or 2 and suddenly declared, “Daddy, you’re drunk!” My dad was never drunk . In fact, I think his drinking days were over when he married my mom. He tended bar at the bowling alley, where he and my mom both bowled on leagues, and of course, when I was old enough to wield a ball, he taught me how to bowl. On many evenings, my dad and I would walk up to the corner store for milk or bread, and we’d walk in step, holding hands and swinging arms, singing “Me and My Shadow . . . strolling down the avenue.” He also loved teaching me marching chants, from when he served in the army and the Army Air Corps. He was a fast walker, and I had to skip every once in a while to keep up, despite his having polio as a kid and what he called “a club foot.” Yes, he had had polio and a big hump on the instep of his foot, but the Army was glad to have him. , He loved to fix things around the house and always had some project going, most of which involved painting. When he had a little paint left over, he’d find something else to paint, a shovel handle, the garage door, the front railing, anything that would stand still. When he had some wood leftover from some project or other, he made me a pair of stilts, and I took to them immediately, even trying some tap dancing steps with them. I’ve written about my favorite sayings from my family, but I think the ones from my dad bear repeating. When I’d have trouble pulling open a particularly heavy door or lifting something, he’d say, “You need a brick in your pocket.” When the coffee was too strong, he would say, “It will put hair on your chest.” This was always hilarious to me as a little girl, but I find myself quoting him all the time. The expression he was credited for, as being an original was “That’s a very pregnant idea.” And, even though I was his visually impaired little girl, he taught me to ride a bike and to play wiffle ball. There’s so much more to say, but I’ll have to save it for a chapter in my next book.