My dad passed away almost fourteen years ago, now, and I still miss him. I think he tethered me in this world. I looked up to him even though we didn’t always agree. He unkindly teased me once about having failed as a parent because he’d raised a Democrat. Needless to say, we avoided that topic of conversation afterward!
He was someone a person could rely on, and I think he instilled a sense of the importance of integrity in all his children. None of us takes things on lightly – if we agree to do something, we do it, even if it kills us! A member of what is now termed The Greatest Generation, he was a World War II reconnaissance pilot, a period of his life he, unlike others, remembered with great fondness even though his meticulously kept photo album held many pictures of friends and comrades who didn’t survive. An only son, he re-entered civilian life at the end of the war since his own father had died and he felt an obligation to help his mother. Returning to college, he pursued an engineering degree and met my mom. Theirs was a typical post-war life; Dad worked, Mom stayed home with the children who began arriving approximately every two years. Between sister two and three, we moved from a smaller home into a larger one, and my dad’s mother came to live with us, too!
So here was my dad, with a wife, a mother, four daughters, and even a female cat. And I believe he was completely in his element! Aside from coming home from work, and wondering aloud if we all thought he owned the electric company because the house was “lit up like a Christmas tree”, he was pretty even-tempered. Oh, and driving – not even-tempered then. It took me years before I stopped wondering why a bee’s son was anything to be angry about!
But he liked driving, and often on a Sunday afternoon in the summer, he’d pile us all in the car and drive out into the country. Once we even took the cat, when she was a kitten, and it wasn’t until we were too far from home to turn back that she decided she didn’t like the car after all, and began to howl. That was a long afternoon, and we didn’t take the cat again.
Our vacations always involved driving. We would drive from Michigan to Buffalo, NY where my dad had been born, to see some relatives, leaving my grandma with them for a longer visit, then drive up into Canada. One year we drove all the way up around Lake Huron, through Sudbury and then down through Sault Ste. Marie. Unfortunately for Sudbury, the day we came through was miserable, grey and wet. No town would look appealing under those circumstances, but we have all remembered Sudbury as a result! I have a picture I love of the four of us on the beach in St. Ignace. Marianne is in peddle pushers atop a big rock, the other three of us are in dresses, Maureen exploring the pebbles in the wet sand, her back to the camera, Linda sitting at Marianne’s feet. I’m beyond the rock pointing down into the water at its base. We are all involved with exploring, not posing. I wonder who took the picture? I have no memory of that, but am filled with nostalgia when I look at it.
It was my dad’s job, though, to take the Christmas morning movies. He had an 8mm movie camera with big flood lights on either side, like some crazy reindeer antlers! We four would gather at the top of the stairs ready to run down on cue into the living room to discover, on camera, what Santa had brought. Good plan, right? Invariably we would get the green light, be rushing down the stairs only to be told “Wait, wait – go back up!” The film was not moving, so we had to begin again. Except for my dad peering into the camera to be sure the film was actually moving, we never see him in our home movies!
I suppose that’s my point in writing this: what I remember about my dad, and cherish, is not what he did “out in the world”, but what he did, and who he was, within our family. And he was someone you could count on. He was at the bottom of the basement steps on Sunday morning, ready to give your shoes a polish before church, he was willing to get in the car and come check out the weird music you heard coming from the basement at the house where you were babysitting, he was the one you called when you got in a fender-bender.
He was my Dad. And I miss him always, but Father’s Day reminds me that I miss him. On Father’s Day now, I am celebrating the qualities and love my husband embodies as a fantastic father to our son, and seeing those and similar qualities in my son that will make him a great father down the road. Father’s Day has become Fathers’ Day. Maybe it should be Fatherhood Day, a celebration of both the specific fathers in our lives as well as the vocation of fatherhood and those who live it whether they be biological fathers or not. What do you think? Should we vote on it?