My father died when I was thirty five. I was lucky to have him around for 35 years. I know there are a lot of people who don’t have their dads for long, or at all. So 35 years was a blessing. I think of my dad every day, in some way, when I see something that reminds me of him. And there is a lot to remind me. Especially when I look in a mirror.
Dad to me, and my 7 siblings, Jim to the rest of the world. I think the 8 of us all saw dad differently. But there are a few things that are certain. He was handsome. I am not being biased because every one who talks to me about my dad tells me he was. And yes, I would say so even if they didn’t. So maybe I am being biased. I’m okay with that. For all of the things that dad was, or that dad did, I do believe his greatest gift in life was being a father. Not because I am one of his kids but because I heard him say this more times than anything else he ever said. Well, except for “make me a bacon sandwich please” or “get me a beer please”.
Dad taught me things I never got to thank him for. And things that I didn’t even know I learned from him. Dad use to own a bar. He was a great bartender. He would listen, smile, do his job. When he was not at the bar I never heard him say anything about his customers. Nothing negative. His ‘bar’ was a pleasant place. When he had a heart attack at a young age the patrons helped out. I remember him being out going, entertaining, and fun at the bar. At home I remember him being quiet. Reserved. Not always, but often. As I look back, I think he loved the bartending but it drained him. As an adult my job involves me talking and interacting all day long. When I get home I sometimes don’t have the verbal and emotional energy to interact with my own family. I feel like I am relating to dad, understanding him more, and thanking him more since he is gone then I ever did when he was here. I understand more of course as an adult, how much it took out of him to do what he did. And I appreciate him more for it.
I remember dad lying on the floor at home, with the headphones on, flat on his back, with his hands crossed on his chest. Or, hands crossed under his head. The music would be so loud I could hear the music well enough to sing along to. He would keep his eyes closed. We would have to step over him to go about doing our thing. He needed alone time. That was hard to do with 10 people in the house. But when he needed it, he found a way. I still see him lying there. When I look back I am amazed at how much music was in our house.
Dad use to do things with us that I didn’t think other kids got to do. He took us to national forests and had us climb the fire tower. He took us to Tinker’s cave and we slid and hiked to the cave and played in the splendor of what I swear was untouched by any other human. Our own little discovery. He had us building dams on the old family property, riding motorcyles, taught us to shoot guns and drive stick shift. We cooked on hibachis and open fires. We played cops and robbers and jumped from hay lofts. He let us, and encouraged us, to get filthy while we played and would then take us to Red Lobster and not be embarrassed about his dirty and stinky brood sitting in the middle of the restaurant. He fixed us shrimp soup. He taught us the joy of singing to Peter, Paul and Mary, and “Dead Skunk In The Middle Of The Road”, Johnny Cash and Johnny Horton. He drove us around in old trucks with us bouncing around in the truck bed. Back when that was okay to do. And I swear we started the peace sign movement by driving up and down Interstate 70 flashing the peace sign at all of the semi drivers. Dad loved bacon, loved beer and loved God. And he loved us.
As we got older he left his beer can calling card if he went to our homes and missed us. He tended to leave those calling cards even if he was visiting and some of those calling cards weren’t found until years after he had left them. He enjoyed hiding those calling cards in people’s chandeliers, toilet tanks, ceiling tiles, anywhere he could quickly hide a “card” and be unseen doing it. His practical jokes were painless and give us much to chuckle about all these years later.
He taught us to be responsible and trustworthy. When dad felt he had failed us, he told us to our face. He didn’t mind so much what other’s thought, but he was extremely concerned about what his children thought. He feared shaming us. I don’t remember ever hearing dad talk prideful about himself, only about his kids.
Dad wasn’t a perfect man. And that was okay. The man that he was did his best to love us and guide us. I never doubted that. His love for us was a lesson all it’s own. I was blessed to have him. And I miss him every day. The best things that dad did for us and gave us I still have. And always will. They are lessons that can not be taken away or forgotten. When I see him in my thoughts and prayers I see him with a quiet smile. And I see him at peace. I love dad. I love the man he was.
Thank you Dad. I love you.