I started this blog about five years ago and, although I did a Mother’s Day post some years back, had yet to do a Father’s Day post – until now.
This will be one of my shorter blogs because I really didn’t know my Dad that well. He passed away when I was 14, and, with being a tad independent – never a mom or daddy’s girl, and the daughter of a man who worked very hard to support his children and mounting medical bills, I didn’t have any time to get to know the man behind the parent. My memories of my father, while all good, are more snippets of moments and impressions.
To give you a starting point, my father married my mother when he was 24 and she, 16. I don’t know how they found each other or how long their courtship was…that and other family history went with them. Seven years after their marriage, they welcomed identical twin boys. A hand full of mischief lay ahead of them from what I understand – double trouble became the boys’ name. It wasn’t long after their birth, my mom’s dormant rheumatic heart fever disease resurfaced and therefore having more children was ill-advised by the doctors. But, one of the traits passed on to me from my mom is that of stubbornness. Going against the advice, a little over a decade and a half later I arrived on the scene.
Not from any particular memory but just from the life he led, I know my father to have been a go-with-the-flow kind of man. I don’t remember ever seeing him get rattled. Not by the abusive tongue his own mother would sometimes use against him; not the bat-s**t crazy sister of my mother who bullied him when he didn’t have any other choice but her when asking to babysit me while my mom was in the hospital; not the five-hour drives every weekend to and from the National Institute of Health in Baltimore to see my mom; nor the unexpected slip and slide, successfully dodging trees and shrubs, down a wet leaf-covered tall hill he and I shared when hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains one August; or, taking the flack when asked by my mom to trim her favorite camellia bushes in our front yard and he near chopped them down instead. All of it, he took in stride. That’s not to say he never got angry. There were times I heard a change in his tone of voice, but they were rare – and, most occurring when he drove. (Thanks, Dad, for that trait.)
But, the laid back attitude had its drawbacks. And, I’m pretty sure it was something he learned from his own mother – that being he was not very demonstrative in love. I always knew he loved me, he never shied away from a kiss on the cheek when I left to go play, or balked when I sat on his back combing and “styling” his mane of grey hair into all sorts of shapes while we all watched Bonanza on a Saturday night. However, in withholding that demonstration, it made the times he did show it stand out. One time, in particular, I was with my dad, Uncle, and my Uncle’s wife, and we had been fishing on my Uncle’s boat all day in the choppy waters of the Atlantic. After hours of the to and fro, up and down, rocking and rolling, my stomach had had enough and I became seasick. It was bad. I was never so glad to step foot on dry land in my young life and when I did, I didn’t look back. It was then, a quarter way up the dock, my dad ran to catch up to me. He wrapped his strong arm around my shoulders and walked the rest of the way with me. He never said a word – he didn’t have to. I remember looking up at his face and he down to mine and all I could see was his soft, understanding smile, and all the compassion and love he had for me permeating through his eyes. It’s a moment I will go to my own grave cherishing.
Did I mention he was hard working? He was – both at his 9 to 5 and at home. His day job consisted of being an engineer and mechanic for the Norfolk Naval Air Station. He was good at his job and well respected – told to me by the many, many, friends who came to his funeral. But as gregarious and generous as he was with his time for others, he often turned down help when it came to him. In fact the only times I can recall him asking for any help was in seeking family or friends to keep me when my mom stayed in the hospital. His nature of giving more than taking was never more telling than when it came to digging and building a basement under our house; tilling our acre of land in the back yard and maintaining a garden that would sustain us through the winter with home-grown vegetables; and, finally, drilling a new well when the old one showed signs of going dry. He did it all alone, refusing any help, though I know it was offered.
It was during his digging the new well, and he had to stop and drive to the supply store for more material, that we got the call from the Police Department that my father had been involved in a one-car accident and taken to Norfolk General Hospital. We learned after arriving what they wouldn’t tell us over the phone, that he had had a heart attack behind the wheel and died instantly.
For the longest time, I blamed his not asking for or accepting help – working his body physically beyond the breaking point – for his death. But, I’ve made peace by coming to understand a little on how life and death, and the life my dad choose, works. He stayed long enough to raise two strong sons, and his daughter given a firm foundation to build upon. The values he instilled live to this day in each of his children and we’ve all done our own best to pass those to our own – honesty, integrity, and a stable work ethic, to mention only a few. His own life-character lives on in his friends as they remember him to this day. Only last year, I ran into one of the old “neighborhood” girls and she told me the story that when driving with her own father just a few weeks before, he pointed out to her our old house and told her of the good man that he would sometimes ride to work with that used to live there. Instead of growing old and whatever that may have entailed – possibly being a burden to others, he left in the best possible way, his way – without assistance. Who knows, maybe a part of him knew that my mom would soon follow just three months later and he went ahead so he could meet her when she got there.
Throughout life I’ve, and I know others have, heard the typical life question: If you had a chance to talk to any one person, living or dead, who would that be? And, I finally have the answer. My Daddy. We have a lot of catching up to do.