Friday, June 17, 2005
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!
I have mentioned previously that my father resembles Abraham Lincoln.
I think that’s pretty cool for a Dad, to look like Abe. The gaunt face. The beard. The sorrowful eyes. Solemnity.
That’s how he looks, that’s not how he acts, thank goodness!
I grew up knowing that Dad’s told puns at the dinner table. At first they were mysteries. Then they were as incomprehensible as the word, “incomprehensible.” Then they were bad, and as my Dad himself noted later in years, “And bad means GOOD.” (These were the seventies, okay?)
Dad had his moments. I can’t imagine raising 5 kids, spending 16 years of evenings through the ‘50s and ‘60s taking Actuarial Exams, and having to deal with the all too public spectacles of the Red Scare, the Bomb Scare, JFK’s Assassination, Vietnam, Watergate, the Sexual Revolution, Women’s Lib -- it must have all seemed like constant change, and little of it for the better. Wasn’t that why landing on the Moon was so incredibly cathartic? How cares about this old piece of rock, it chased all that other garbage off the TV!
I remember raging arguments over the dinner table. Appetite was the first casualty, relationships and trust were next.
Now that I’m a Dad, I have a totally different and deepening appreciation for all that my Dad has done. He’s a Great Man. One of the few I have ever met. Any Great Man I meet in the future must compete with him in my esteem.
Now I need to remark, that despite a distance, aloofness almost, a detachment from us kids that made closeness difficult early on – no doubt in large part due to the factors noted above – my Dad experienced an epiphany at one point in our early adult lives.
He realized he wanted to be our Friend, not just our Father. He wanted to be support for us as we made our way, he hungered for contact, to know and be known.
I can’t think of anything much more heroic for a grown adult with adult children than to reach out with humility and say, in essence, “I am here for you. I wasn’t always. You want an ear, I’ll listen but not judge. You seek encouragement, I can clap and hug, and not find fault. I will not let another day go by without investing in my kids.”
I find myself reaching for that example more and more. And I cherish that he gave us that. It could not have been easy, after all the fights and taunts, rejections and abuses.
My Dad taught me a thing or two.
He taught me honesty and integrity. When I was little, we went to church. I remember being scared to go to Sunday School, I remember the 5 of us kids dressing in little suits and dresses, I remember a little cap I wore, I remember bow ties and dress shorts. I remember piling into the back of some big old ‘50s sedan – no seatbelts back then of course – and heading off to church.
We stopped going when I was 5. The explanation I got when I was older was, “We don’t believe in organized religion.”
Much later I found out that, despite leaving the church in ‘64 or ’65, my father continued his payments into the building fund for another 3 years, until his pledge was completed. He’d made a commitment.
My father taught me justice. Sometimes I was on the receiving end, sometimes my honor was upheld in retribution for harm done. Sometimes, there was the “Knock it off, both of you,” variety of collective punishment, but always there was a sense of fairness, of consequence, and decidedly, a lot more of hurting him than hurting us. At least, that’s how it seems to me today.
My Dad helped me understand love. He showed it towards my Mom in rare unguarded moments, but it showed freely back in Michigan, with our families “back home.” Too long dispossessed from any fiber of roots from Southern Michigan, still and all every visit brought my Dad back a vitality and youthfulness. He was the Son made good gone East. A College Man. Does something with Insurance. Want to go fishing?
He told us tales of hunting Bull Frogs at night. He gave me the gumption to try Frog Legs at my first French Restaurant. He says they ate Potato and Onions about a hundred different ways during the Depression. He forged a Legacy of College Photos of a lanky Tennis Star, who seemed made to order for the Blond Debater at Western Michigan.
He doesn’t understand it yet, but he pointed me to God.
We used to fight a lot in my teens, I think I went three years in College without a word passed between us. Yet we became good friends. He taught me important things about the ties that bind, about what lasts as nearly to forever as anything we experience on this Earth.
I sometimes want to be mad at him. If I am who I am so much because of him, why can’t he see things the way I see things?!
But that’s something else he taught me. Respect for others and their differences.
And I remind myself, too, maybe his Dad wasn’t quite the kind of Dad I had.
And it makes me all the more proud and humbled by the Man he is, not the Man I think he should be.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Thanks for all that you are, all that you’ve done, and all that you’ve left me in Legacy of you.
(Linked as Covered Dish at Basil's Blog.)
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