Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dad!

My Dad would have been 98 years old today. Happy birthday, Dad! I know you're up there thinking about me... and your family.

I didn't have much time with him -- not as much as my older siblings, anyway. Not because he didn't spend time with all of us, but because he died when I was 12 years old.

My Dad was a diplomat, both at his profession and at home. He was quiet, but we knew what he liked, and didn't. He liked his kids to get along... so my sister had to stop pulling my hair in the car as we drove cross-country. (Yeah, right... one reason why I drove with Mom more often.)

Dad liked order, but wasn't rigid. For example, when it was time for dinner, all of us had to be seated, napkin in our lap, and wait until he served himself before we could serve ourselves, pass the bowl, make sure everyone had everything, then begin to eat. But the conversation around the table was loud, raucous, and we often talked over one another. Dad loved it when everyone asked questions, talked about the news of the day, added on to the other's thoughts, and shared. I often remember watching him sit back from his chair at the table and just watch all of us be a family. I could tell he was very proud.

My Dad loved to get a small boat out onto the reservoir and pretend to fish. He had all the equipment, but it was evident to us if we got to go with him that he just wanted to sit and enjoy the serenity. "Don't scare away the fish!" was a common expression to get us kids to shut up. I learned from that ... what serenity was ... and to be patient while being peaceful. That's a hard lesson for a kid to learn!

I recall two incidents that mortified me, but later became the stories that the family brings up as adults at the most inopportune times. One was the time that Dad took a sister and me with an aunt visiting from Oklahoma to the reservoir, just to walk around on a nice Spring morning. He showed her the boat, and I hopped onto it. He asked me to get out, which I did. But then the boat began to float away, so I reached to grab the rope -- and you guessed it -- I overreached and fell into the water. Everyone was highly amused except me (at the time).

Another time was when Dad had docked the boat and asked me to lock it up. I did that diligently. Then he asked me to hand him the keys. I got cute and tossed the keys at him -- and the keys went into the water. I never could throw anything. The car keys were on that ring. Oh gosh... what a mess. Dad tried fishing with a stick to find them, but no luck. It was getting dark, and we couldn't see. He walked about a mile to use a phone to call his brother to bring us the spare keys. Man, I was in the doghouse for a week.

Being in the "doghouse" meant, to us, having to live with knowing that we had disappointed our father. It was a horrible feeling, because we knew how much he loved us, and how much he cared. He would never yell, scream, curse, or lay a hand on us, even if we messed up. He would just give us "that look"... and we knew. He taught us what "expectations" were, what "standards" were, and how to try to achieve having a good life every day by demonstrating how he lived to the standards he set for us.

Dad would read with us. He would speak in other languages with us, and encourage us to learn about the world. His world was huge. He even helped us have the most creative "show-and-tell" experiences while we were in school, with real people!

One more story about Dad, in closing. He so loved my Mom. I could see it in his eyes, in the way he looked at her, and in the many things he did for her every day. One night, after he thought we all were in bed, I heard some waltz music. I looked out over the banister, and saw Dad dancing with Mom, then gave her a big kiss when the song ended. Just the the two of them. Their love was complete, solid, and strong.

Well, Happy Birthday, Dad! I miss you, am thinking of you, and love you very much. I try today to live as a man that you wanted me to be. I always cherish your memories, your devotion to family, your solid work ethic, and most of all, your love.

Remember, life is short: if you are fortunate enough to still have your Dad around, let him know you care. Pay a visit, give a call. Show those you love that you love 'em.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We each have our own memories. That was what was so special about Dad, in that he spent time with each of us individually. He was there to cheer me on in the sports I played when very young, yet never criticized you for not having the same interests. He had a gift that made all of us feel that he was interested in what you wanted to do.

You forgot to mention, bro, that your strong interest in photography began by following in our Dad's footsteps. As a war photographer, Dad learned a lot about not only taking photos, but in developing them. As I recall, you and Dad built the darkroom at home together, and I know you spent many hours developing film and pictures that you shared with us. It made Dad very proud that one of your pictures won a state photo contest when you were only 11.

We had a very special man as our father, and like you, I've been thinking about him today. I am sitting now in the very office in which he once sat, 44 years ago. How weird is that? Well, not weird, really -- he prepared me for this post. I just didn't know it at the time.

Love you, 'bro. Thanks for remembering Dad today.