One of my best memories of my father is sitting next to him in the living room watching Godzilla movies on a weekend day. I was just a little girl then and hadn’t developed my smart mouth yet. If I close my eyes I can hear the squeak of the cool black leather couch as I wiggled around trying to get closer to him when Godzilla came out. I can see the dust pulled in by the attic fan floating lazily in and out of the beams of sunlight shining through the patio door that let out into the back yard. I can picture the red brick patio that we had to help lay (he and Mom did most of the work) out that patio door. I can smell the mint and sweet onion smell wafting through the air from the garden in back. Sitting between the couch and the matching loveseat is a big wooden table that Dad made with a big brown lamp on it. Next to the lamp is a big as a small bucket glass of iced tea with a sprig of fresh mint floating in it and condensation dripping down it’s sides turning the table darker brown in a circle.
While we sit there watching Godzilla fight with everyone and I pretend to cover my eyes whenever things get too scary I can feel my Dad’s strength next to me and I know that I’m protected. He had massive arms, extremely strong hands and fingernails he could use as screwdrivers. We used to play this game where I would sneak my small hand into his and he would try to grab it. Sometimes he let me win and let my hand escape before his big hand closed over mine. 🙂 The funny thing is I never saw him look so I had no idea how he knew when my hand was almost touching his! Looking back on that I realize how patient he was because I really liked that game and he probably got very sick of it long before I did. He was so strong he could pick up me and my brothers all at the same time and throw us in the pool. We would squeal and shriek in mock fear and anger as he roared a roar and tossed us into the sparkling water. We would come up from under the water sputtering and giggling and head right back for more.
My Dad could do anything. If I didn’t know something I knew I could ask him and he’d know. Not only would he know but he’d straighten up in the chair and say “Get a pencil and paper” and I knew I was in for a long lecture on how things work. He still knows more than just about anyone I know about so many things mechanical or electrical or anything else for that matter. My Dad is retired now but he was a career electrician and loved what he did. He was a working man, a blue collar guy with the midwest workaholic philosophy of life. He never called in sick unless he couldn’t move from his bed. He instilled a strong work ethic in me and my siblings and we all appreciate that. He taught us how batteries worked and why plants grew and what made cars go and how a vaccuum cleaner worked and how to start a lawn mower. I know how to cap off a hot wire, change a light fixture, repair a leaky faucet and so much more. He taught us how to laugh at adversity and enjoy our lives. He taught us about good music and constantly groused about ours. He hates electronic music and doesn’t care for singing unless it’s Linda Ronstadt. He likes pure instrumental music like the blues, jazz and classical music but he taught me to freestyle dance to Ike and Tina Turner’s Working Together album too.
He is artistic too but if you asked him he would say “no”. When we were kids he used to draw Popeye for us. His written diagrams were done with the attention to detail of a draftsman with the artistic flair to make it come alive. When he would make one of us run for a pencil and paper we knew two things. 1) we were going to learn whether we liked it or not and 2) we were going to be sitting there for a very long time. LOL I finally confessed to my Mom recently that on occasion I would deliberately wait until dinner was almost over to ask my Dad a question that I knew would require pencil and paper because while Dad was teaching there were no interruptions which meant that I would be unable to help clear the table and wash dishes. I wasn’t a stupid child.
Nothing hurt me worse as a little girl than having to confess to my Dad for doing something wrong. I hated having to tell him because I hated to disappoint him. His jaw would tighten and his eyes would be averted from me and he would tersely ask me questions or worse just give me the silent treatment. Oh that was punishment. As I got older I embraced this ability to disappoint my parents in a highly inappropriate and perfectly natural way by going out of my way to find instances to show my independence. I was a rebel and a pain in the ass. There were many years as a teenager and a young adult that I craved the attention of my father but I never knew how to ask for it. I wanted my Daddy back but we had both gone so far past that place that we didn’t know where it was any more.
He loved me and I loved him but I resented the hell out of him and I really let him down. My choices were not always the best which frankly is a laughable understatement. As I alluded to above I was a rebellious and petulant teenager full of the piss and vinegar and righteousness of a little girl desperately trying to become a grown up way too soon. In other words, I was a perfectly normal teenager just working it all out. It was not a great time in our relationship. Really though I just wanted my parents to be proud of me. I know they are now but I wasted so many years on negative attention-drawing behaviors that I’m sure caused a lot of gray hairs for my long suffering family.
My Dad is older now and he’s not the biggest, strongest man in the world anymore. He’s still one of the smartest and most knowledgeable people I have ever known. I just got home today from spending two days with him. He talked about his life and his family and he told me stories and taught me new things. He played me bits from the DVR that he thought I might be interested in. We watched a movie about Erwin Rommel and he told me who he was and why he was so important. I watched him talking with my brother about ball bearings in his big tractor lawn mower. He explained how hedging worked on Wall Street and how easy it was for companies to make millions by manipulating the market. We talked politics which if you know my family is a very VERY common occurence. From the time I was a grade schooler we have had politics local and federal and current events discussions at most family get togethers. My family is so smart, every single one of them because both of my parents recognized the importance of learning about the things happening around us. They instilled that in all of us too.
Tonight I had a car problem and as always, my first call was to my Dad. “This is what I know and this is what I did, what else should I do?” He always has an answer or a suggestion. Sometimes I know I’m doing the right thing but I just need his confirmation. I think sometimes he gets irritated with my neediness and on at least one occasion I remember saying to him “but you’re my Dad who else would I call?” He told me I was doing it right tonight and made a couple of suggestions and I proceeded. I can’t remember the last time I picked up the phone to call him and he didn’t answer. He’s always there and most of the time can tell me what I need to know or steer me in the right direction.
When I knew I was spending every minute with him for two days straight I was nervous. We sometimes strike sparks although neither of us goes out our way to, it just happens. Not this time. He taught and I learned, he told stories of his childhood and I absorbed, he spread words of wisdom and I memorized them. For the last two days I enjoyed a camaraderie with the first most important man in my life that I have not known for a very long time. He’s not the biggest strongest man in the world, I know that but to me he is my Dad, my protector and my advisor. I have never loved or respected him more than I do today. I’m so grateful to still have him in my life, I only hope that he feels the same way about me.
It breaks my heart for the people who have lost one or both of their parents too soon. I have always had the confidence to know that I had both of my parents to help me raise my daughter and learn to be a grown up. They wanted different things for me I know but they love me and have adapted. They would have preferred that I wait until I was older to get married and have a child. I had my daughter when I was twenty two and I was very immature as was my husband. With their help and guidance and sometimes to be honest, unwelcome interference, I have raised a phenomenal child. She has a strong bond with my parents and has even traveled overseas with my Dad.
When she was a little girl Anne was full of questions. Oh my gosh she would drive me to the brink with question after question and was not satisfied with a simple answer. When things got to the Mommybreakdown point my standard response became “I don’t know Honey, let’s ask Grandpa next time we see him if he knows.” He’s my “go to guy” then and now.
Don’t get me wrong he’s not perfect but even in that is a lesson. Flawed people are real people. Show me a perfect man and I’ll show you a liar. He had a tough childhood but he overcame so many things that would have completely leveled someone weaker than he. With a dogged determination he succeeded where so many others had failed. He made a life for himself and became a man anyone could like and respect. He has lifelong friends he still talks to regularly. His best friend from grade school and he still keep in touch. He’s someone people instantly like and want to get to know, both young and old.
He’s my Dad, a complicated multi layered man with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge even at seventy plus. He built a computer in his sixties and he knows more about them than people a quarter his age. He took an English class just because he wanted to. He went to college to learn Polish because that’s his heritage and he hasn’t spoken it since he was a very little boy. He took piano lessons because it was something he always wanted to do. Most of my friends from childhood remember my Dad as being sort of an imposing presence and I think that was because he was such a big strong man and his personality made him bigger than he actually was with a thick head of curly hair reminiscent of the Mad Hungarian, blue eyes you could see in the dark and a red beard. My closest friends also still ask about him and can tell stories about him that make me smile. One of my friends described an incident when my daughter was very little. She had a helium balloon and had let it go in the house and couldn’t reach it. My Dad wouldn’t get it for her, instead he made her think of a way to get it herself. I don’t remember this but my friend does. He showed her how she could take a broom and twist it around the string until it was attached and then pull the balloon down from the ceiling. That’s my Dad. What a guy.