Speaking of dads

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What can I say about dads?

There are dads and there are dads.

Some are good; some fall short.

Some are tall, short, plump or lean.

My dad was six foot tall, lean, muscular, until lung cancer took him down.

Yes, he was a smoker.

He started smoking when he was in his teens and never stopped.

Oh, he tried a few times, but he could never break the habit.

Most of the time, he didn't want to.

My dad had his serious side but sometimes another side showed through.

When I was probably about nine or ten years old, I remember him chasing my two brothers around and around our dining room table. He was bent on catching one of them and tickling them until they cried, "uncle." The chase happened several times a month.

I was terrified he would catch me. He didn't realize it, but his tickling actually hurt. He forgot how strong he was, I guess. At that time, he had huge muscles in his arms and shoulders. I never thought about my dad being handsome but in old photos I've seen, I guess he was. There weren't many photos though, maybe two or three that I uncovered.

Dad wasn't an affectionate father. That is, he didn't hug and kiss on anyone. In later years, my mom and I talked about my dad. She confided that she thought he was mistreated when he was growing up. Apparently he hadn't received much affection. He came from a blended family but there was no such word as blended years ago. One of my dad's brothers left home when he was barely sixteen. I understand that he went to St. Louis, Mo., and began working in a hotel. He learned the business from the ground up and eventually owned his own hotel in California. I called him my rich uncle.

I called him that because one time he came back home to Missouri and brought gifts for my family. He brought a bicycle for my brother, a small piano for me, and a fur coat for my mother. I don't know what he gave my father because I was too busy banging on my piano.

Dad was a laborer, a hard worker. If he had any hobbies, it was fishing and hunting.

My mom shared his love for fishing. Even after he died at age 66, she continued fishing until she was in her mid 80's.

She would come to visit at my country home and sit out on the bank of the fishing pond until I yelled that dinner was ready.

If she stopped fishing early, I could count on that she had tangled the line until it was impossible for her to untangle it. Or else, she had the line wound around an overhead tree branch and couldn't get it loose.

She would never admit that she had made a mess of the line, but she didn't have to tell me.

It was up to my son to untangle or string new lines on the poles after she had gone home. Sometimes he found it amusing.

I can remember when I was in grade school and carried a lunch. I would often open my lunch and find a note written by my dad. It would say something like, "Save some for your poor old dad."

Dad was not a joiner. He didn't like family reunions, or funerals, or social functions.

He preferred staying home, watching Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, his favorite comedians.

Besides, he was tired from trying to eke out a living for the family during depression years and beyond.

He liked dogs and had several hunting dogs.

I can remember when he came home from work one evening. He was hiding something in his shirt. We kept circling him trying to see what he was hiding. Suddenly a small puppy poked its tiny head out from between two button holes. Dad had brought home a pup, one of many we had during our childhood.

All four of us kids became animal lovers, probably because of dad. All of us have owned dogs and cats and so have our children and grandchildren. And birds too, like cockatiels, and parakeets and exotic chickens.

Right now in my mind's eye, I picture my dad sitting in a lawn chair out under a tree in our backyard on Laurant Avenue. He's holding out a pecan, patiently trying to coax a squirrel to take the pecan from his hand. The squirrel warily inches toward my dad's outstretched hand, but is too cautious to take the bait..

That picture is incongruous because my dad wasn't a patient man. Not at all.

I guess you might call him a loner, because he was a solitary man, needing privacy.

It was only when he became terminally ill, that he mellowed.

Just days before his death, he told me that he loved me.

I've come to the conclusion that everyone needs a dad during early formative years.

After my dad died, I felt a void, an enormous emptiness that only a dad could fill.

Never underestimate a dad.

He's an important figure in your life.

He impacts you, one way or the other.

Remember him this Father's Day.