"I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom."
It's Father Day and it's been a long time since I had the comfort of you, and this is the only way I can think of, short of memories, to talk. I'm sure there were things left unsaid, like there are between men; when we look back and wish there had been more words. Words of appreciation, words of healing, words of thanks.
As for appreciation, I think my childhood was the best. Who could beat small town Seaton, a real-life Mayberry of the Midwest? Sure, everyone was watching, but that was a blanket of security for both child and parent. But when they weren't watching, we did our pranks and learned the lessons of knowing what is fun and what is vandalism. If we ever crossed the line, we didn't cross it for long.
I know you worked hard and long hours at the grain elevator to provide for all of us, and I hope the hours golfing and the Club helped mitigate the endless worry of wet quonsetts, moldy corn, flammable bin dust, or those box cars that always seemed to arrive late. To me it was all the fun: climbing around feed sacks, firing pop bottle rockets at farmers climbing out of their trucks, evading the mad chicken, getting a pop in that cold water maze of a machine, or watching your dad come in and take a seat in the old worn stuffed chair. It was fun when we'd get to stay up late for fall corn drying nights. So it was not only tough to insure that the corn was drying properly and that it was flowing into whatever it flowed in, but you had to watch us to boot.
I appreciate, looking back, the clothes, the toys, the food, the everyday expenses that a kid never understands. You said once that you hated to play board games, but you did anyway for us. I appreciate that. I appreciate also your service in World War II and that you were a card-carrying member of the Greatest Generation. That you were a real-life captain of a ship. A small one, but it was a ship with guns, anyway. Not too long before you died I joined you and Marj at the Club for a New Year's party. The band played Lee Greenwood's "Proud to be an American", and asked all the vets to stand. My eyes welled up as I saw you stand. You looked awkward having to do it, and I felt for you since I hate the spotlight, too. But you did it and I was proud of, and for, you.
Thanks for the financial support during college and I'm sure your heart sank when I decided to go to graduate school, too. Thanks, too for the Kawasaki 90 you bought new for me in Monmouth. You would be pleased to know that I still ride, I still take cross-country trips, and will until I can't hold it upright anymore. Thanks for whatever part you had in letting your sister's husband, Ed, take me that one summer day after the end of high school for a job on the farm and opened an employment (and enjoyment) opportunity that lasted for over a dozen years.
If we had any tradition at all it may be the ill-fated Christmas scotch-and-water thing we did for several years until we switched over to a better tasting and safer Red Rooster. We played golf occasionally and you were certainly kind enough to say, "You'd be pretty good if you just played more." Golf was your thing, and I can picture you now at the tee, cigar clamped tightly in your jaws, maybe just a little pressure to out-do the boys. As time went on, the hands began to shake but the cigar and the hearty head-thrown-back laugh was still there. It may be one of God's unseen little miracles that your heart attack happened on a golf course. I wish your tee shot would have been a laser strike to the green, but, like life itself, it was all too real, having shanked the shot over to the sixth hole fairway.
You were also flawed. You'll be pleased to note that I am as well. The childish imperceptions of youth give way to the impeccable perception of experience. Those few years when it seemed we had become adversaries rather than father-son weigh heavily on me. Only when one has seen the true nature of life and its incessant ravages upon us, can one battle another's deeds or actions. Time allows us to see what living entails. I'm not positive I'd change much of what was in my heart, but I would have hoped to be more circumspect on my actions. That we forged a peace speaks well of us both.
In my most basic of fantasies, I see you in heaven riding with Chesty to the next tee-off both laughing those unmistakable sounds that echoed through the fairways. We tend to like pictures of that sort of thing when we think of the dead. Of course, my logical and philosophical side takes exception to such quaint notions. I guess I'll discover all too soon the reality of it all.
I think I'm a lot like you, Herb. I stuck with my work as long as they let me. Like you, I persevered. I have been told on occasion that I look a little like you, and that my laugh is a knock-off. That makes me happy. I learned from you to be a good friend. I cannot hope to ever amass them like you did, I am far too shy, but whether or not they know it, I treasure them all. Your storytelling at the Club with all the guys around was a true joy, and I particularly liked the story about your joke when Danny Lee's dad was there. "Thump-thump…..thump-thump." And the time a guy walked in the Club when we were having some beer after a couple rounds, and he said, "Could you guys tell me where Hawthorne is? This is such a little town and I had no idea you had 2 courses." Herb said to go down the road, and "…Yeah, we're thinking about building a third." You had to be there.
At least in my eyes we are. I know how hard you tried to teach me math, and I still remember the hoarse exasperation in your voice. Sadly I am still woefully number-challenged, but every so often when I am quickly able to tally something, I think of you. You taught me that fathers and sons can be different and I hope, like you, I have provided for the family and that I made the kids' childhood safe, secure and fun. I hope I have instilled in them that you can always change, that there are no final absolutes. Your lifetime political loyalty gave way for a couple elections, anyway, to other parties. I admired you for thinking about the issues, and voting for who you thought would best serve.
For all those board games, those baseball and football games when you would have rather been napping, or those Christmas mornings dancing a jig in your undies in the kitchen and showing off, I thank you.
The little things that Dad's teach. I guess we three boys are walking proofs of excellent fatherhood. It's not the baiting a hook or playing catch stuff that makes us men, whatever that term means to people. It's all the stuff that they don't write books about: when to keep quiet, how to listen, the art of conversation, the ability to protect, or just being there. For all of that I thank you.