Sunday, June 16, 2013

Our Fathers

I drew the lucky card when it came to fathers.  My dad was involved in my life from the very beginning.  He was often the only one who could quiet my colicky cries.  He took me fishing, attended my school events and wiped my tears when I skinned my knees.  And he recorded everything on reels and reels of Super 8 movies.  Mom worked on Saturdays, so that day was just for Dad and me.  I’m not sure how much help I was on those days together, but at least I provided continual chatter as he fixed our cars, weeded the garden or painted the house.  He had a short-wave radio and we spent endless hours in the basement tuning the dials so we could hear people in far off places, like Colorado, talk over the air.  We learned Morse code together, he made me mahogany doll furniture and he explained the virtues of American Motors cars (he was a Rambler man through and through).  And he loved me through and through.  Never a doubt about that. 

Yes, I drew the lucky card.  But, I really wanted to hear what my friends and family think about their own fathers.  So, a few weeks ago I sent out an e-mail to ask.  As I entered the addresses I wondered how each would respond.  I know that some had fathers who had abandoned them.  Others had strained relations or dads who parented from afar because of divorce.  I wondered how my own children would respond.  I also wondered how many responses I would receive.  Not everyone loves to put their thoughts into print like I do.  But, I knew that the inquiry would at least cause people to pause for a moment to contemplate the question, “What did my father teach me?” I do think it is a question worthy of a bit of reflection.  And if my essays do nothing else, at least I hope they make folks think. 

So, I forged ahead. And oh, what wonderful responses came to my in-box!  I smile every time I read them and it makes me want to meet the dads I don’t know and hug the ones I do know. 

Ashley writes, “My Dad taught me to use tools, hang drywall, use a riding lawn mower, change a tire, change the oil in my car, how to fish, how to ski and how to canoe. My Gramps (Dad’s dad) taught me that pork will kill you (among other things)!”  Aubrey says, “My daddy taught me how to take care of a cast iron skillet, shop on a budget and how to make ‘whatever-is-leftover-soup’ (no, really…he taught me how to make something out of nothing.)”

Our fathers taught us skills we use every day.  They taught us how to have fun.  And not eat pork.

Mike shared that “when I was a small child my father would often make the comment, ’I’ve been to every country in the free world except for two!’ Mike inherited his father’s wanderlust and penchant for adventure.  In fact, he’s off on some adventure or other as I write this.  Alisha says, “Dad taught me to appreciate nature and the peace it can bring.”

Our fathers taught us to get out into the world.

Pam writes, “My daddy taught me to NEVER allow the color of anyone’s skin, their size, state of wealth, beauty or abilities dictate their worth.   God created us ALL in His image and we are ALL precious in his sight.”  Bobbi adds, “He taught me that being rich had nothing to do with money and that any piece of junk could become a treasure.”  Joey writes, “My dad taught me to be genuine and to laugh.”

Our fathers taught us how to be in the world.

Bobbi writes, “My father taught me how to be generous; every stranger could be a friend.”  Noel says of that same father, “Dad would always stop to help someone change a tire.  Back then, with those old jacks it could be dangerous thing.  I remember one time we were eating in a cafĂ© when the cook came out and told him that she couldn’t get the pilot light lit on her stove.  He didn’t hesitate to go back there and light it for her.  She’d left the gas on and he ended up getting badly burned and spent days in the hospital.  He always tried to help people.”  Alisha writes that her father “taught me the importance of doing things for others and expecting nothing in return.” 

Our fathers taught us to give.

Casey writes, “He loved family more than anything.  I think that one of the greatest things that Dad taught me was how to be a father myself.  Everything he did for me was out of love.”  Joey says, “I will tell you about how he went on my school history trip and how he bought me a pair of overalls that I really wanted…my friends thought my dad was the best!”

Our fathers taught us how to be parents.

Deenie writes, “As for my dad, he was the sweetest, kindest, most sentimental and loving father any girl could ask for and I miss him. He showed me what love looks like when he smiled and what it feels like in his hugs.  My dad was also a very unpredictable and short tempered man which unfortunately served to overshadow his best qualities.  As a child I was often afraid of him.”  Joey tells me, “My dad had an ugly side and people didn’t know what we were dealing with at home.  We kept secrets.  But he was, for the most part, happy.  He was genuine.  You would have loved him.”

Our fathers sometimes taught us how to be.  Our fathers sometimes taught us how not to be.

Many of you wrote that your fathers were just there for you….with hugs, congratulations, discipline, advice and love.  “He taught me the meaning of unconditional love” was penned by more than one.  Casey remembers, “One time one of my teachers called to say that he was very impressed with my work.  Dad didn’t even say anything to me.  He just gave me the biggest hug that I have ever had.  It felt GREAT!”  And along that same theme with that same father, Aubrey writes, “My daddy taught me that sometimes no words will comfort you…sometimes you just need someone to sit with you and hug you.”

Our fathers taught us to be there for one another. 

On a small end table in our den is a framed photograph of Mike’s dad, Les, taken in Saudi Arabia back in the early 1950’s when Mike was a baby.  Les was in the Air Force temporarily stationed in Saudi Arabia for about a year and a half while his family remained in the U.S.  In the photo, Les wore a native Saudi cap, held a pipe to his lips and his shoulder bore a tattoo of a propeller blade placed perpendicular through two, crossed air force wings.   It is quite beautiful.  A couple of months ago as a tribute to his dad, Mike took the photograph to a tattoo artist who duplicated the tattoo on Mike’s shoulder. 

Our fathers taught us how to honor those we love.

So, I guess it really isn’t about drawing the lucky card.  Maybe learning from our fathers is more about being a willing pupil.  I would love to take credit for the following summation and I was going to try and paraphrase it, but it is perfect just as it is.  So, here to wrap all of this up in a wonderful way, are Deenie’s very wise comments:

One observation Mike and I made as we discussed the gifts our fathers gave us over the years, was that by watching our parents live their lives it helped us gain clarity as adults in what we wanted our lives to be like and especially what we didn’t want our lives to be like.  They provided us the necessary contrast needed for us to become who we are as adults.  I think we pick the perfect parents for us to work out what we need to work out in life.  No mistakes.  We didn’t get the wrong mom or dad.  All life experience is a gift that offers opportunities for forgiveness, compassion, expansion and profound love. 
 Happy Fathers Day to all you awesome fathers! 
Live and love well!