If you read the daily celebrations for today, you already know my thoughts on the differences between a father and a Dad. A man can be one, or the other, or even both, but to me, being Daddy is more special than anything else a man can ever be to his kids.
My Dad, note he’s my DAD – not just my father – is a living, breathing example of a man who took providing for his family seriously. When I was growing up there was never any question about Dad going to work . . . it was something he did because he knew he had responsibilities, a family to feed, and honestly, he enjoyed his job and was good at it. Dad was one of the guys who helped put together the torpedoes at the submarine base, and I was proud of what he did. I remember when he was able to take me to the base with him, before there were so many security issues and the new protocols were in place, on family days. He would point out what he did, and what components he was responsible for working on, and I remember puffing up a little inside with such pride that what my Daddy did was so important and because he did what his job was, other people could do their jobs, and the Navy would have what it needed to help protect our country. His job was at night though, so there are portions of my life that I didn’t see much of him . . . especially during the school year. He went to work before I came home from school, and I was in bed long before he came home. We’d have time together on the weekends and in the summer though – which was always nice.
As with all kids, there are moments that stick out in my head as being extra special with Dad. There are too many to list here, but I’ll put down a couple, and hope that as he reads about them, that Dad gets a smile on his face as he remembers too.
One of the times that really stands out in my head as being pretty special was the first time I shot a gun. Dad was the one I shared that moment with and I will never forget it. I was about 7 or 8 years old at the time. We lived across the street from these woods with a perfect hillside/cliff as a backstop for target shooting. Out of the blue one day my Dad told me to come with him, and with his .22 rifle in his hand that his Dad had given him, we headed across the street. It was one of those perfect days that had blue sky with puffy clouds overhead, the green of the trees and ferns in the woods were brightened by rays of sun that filtered through and put them in a spotlight. I could smell the rich scent of the mosses that we crushed underfoot as we walked, hear the birds singing in the trees and feel the general hush that you get in the woods. Dad set up some empty cans on a log in front of the hill, and came back to where he’d left me standing, he put me in front of him, stuffed ear plugs in my ears, and kneeling behind me he showed me how to hold the rifle – which was far too long for me at the time – and with his arms around me, helping me hold it in place, I remember lining up the sights with the can and pulling the trigger. I can’t even recall of I hit the can or not, but that wasn’t what mattered. I just remember that for at least a half an hour I had my Dad to myself, not having to share with anyone else, and we were doing something together that was special. He shot for awhile, he let me take turns with him – and though I never did manage to hold it on my own that day, each time I shot, my Daddy’s arms were around me, strong and safe, helping me do something so grown up. When we got home I remember watching him clean the gun and he explained to me that I was never, ever, ever to touch this without his permission, but what I remember most about that afternoon was that my Dad said he was proud of me for doing such a great job, for not being afraid, and for listening to him so well. To my recollection that was the only time I ever went shooting with my Dad, but it was so right that we did it together, and that set the tone for my respect for firearms, and for using them safely and appropriately.
Dad gave me my first job! Our church used to own a motocross racing park, and on the weekends in the spring and summer it would open up to the public to race. Dad was in charge of the snack shack – which was basically a wooden utility trailer with a back door and a window that opened out one side. In it there were shelves for candy, a counter that could hold a camp stove and places for coolers of icy sodas. Since Dad worked at night, he was exhausted on those Saturday mornings, but he let me help! I was nine years old, and quite honestly, I don’t know that I would have trusted either of my kids to do what Dad trusted me to do at that age. Together we would make up shopping lists, and with the money the church allotted for the snacks, we’d head for the store and shop. We’d pick out a variety of candy bars and gum, hot dogs and buns, cans of chili and coffee, and cases of Shasta soda. (Do they still make Shasta?) On the way out to the park on Saturday mornings we would stop and buy bags of ice for the coolers of soda, and away we’d go. We’d pull up to the dusty shack (that park got really dusty in the heat!), and he’d show me how to clean up the counters and shelves to get the layer of dirt from the previous week off of everything. He’d get the pot of water to boiling for the hotdogs, put the chili on to heat and if I’m remembering correctly we had huge urns/thermos bottles for coffee and hot water for cocoa. I don’t remember there being electricity, so we must have made the coffee at home, but I can’t be certain. I was responsible for setting the candy out on the wire display racks, putting out the mustard, ketchup and relish for the hot dogs, the paper/Styrofoam bowls, plates and cups for the coffee, chili and hot dogs, and after setting out the cash box for me, Dad would go lay down in the back of the car to catch a nap, leaving me in charge. Oh my gosh I felt so grown up! Dad had worked with me, making a game of it, at home on how to make proper change. I could count it in my head at nine, unlike most fast food workers today. The customers knew me, and were patient when the lines got long, recognizing that I was a kid. I think I did pretty well though – nobody complained, and if I ran into trouble, Dad was just outside the shack snoozing. He’d come in every couple of hours to let me have a break and run to the outhouse and stretch my legs, and check to make sure there was plenty of food still. In the afternoons after he felt more rested, he’d let me run and play with the other kids there to watch the races. As the races started closing down for the day, we’d clean up together, load up the car, and head for home. Sometimes he’d take a walk around the track with me . . . stopping to munch on huckleberries as we came upon them, explaining to me how to tell what berries I was allowed to eat, and which ones I wasn’t because they were dangerous. Those were special times, and in my mind, they set the tone for my work ethic and my desire to be independent and responsible.
Another thing my Dad did for me was to help boost my confidence with my music. For years I took piano lessons, and quite honestly, he is the only person I ever played in front of that I was completely at ease around. I could play in front of Mom just fine, but there was something about playing for Dad that was different. I would be sitting at the piano, feeling a little resentful about practice time when I would rather be curled up with a good book, and Dad would be sitting in his chair reading the paper. I could glance over at him and see what he was doing, and sometimes I would see that his head was resting on the chair, with his eyes closed, and I could see his fingers or his foot moving with the beat of the music. As I’d be playing along he would quietly say, “try that part again”, so I would . . . “again” . . . and I would . . . “one more time” . . . .”there, you got it, good job.” He never criticized mistakes I’d made, he never made me feel bad if I kept messing up. He just encouraged me to keep working at it until I got it the way it was supposed to be, and we’d move on to the next part of the song. I don’t know that he ever really knew how special that was to me, or how important it was to know that he was listening and that he cared what he was hearing.
As I am typing this, little things keep popping into my head about Dad, and I know that none of us has all day to hear me rattling on about my memories of my Dad as I was growing up. I’d just be living up to one of his nicknames he had for me growing up . . . one that really still fits today, as much as I hate to admit it . . . Motor Mouth. Yes, if you haven’t guessed it already, I do talk . . . a lot . . . and sometimes far too fast. Alright, most of the time far too fast. Stop laughing Dad, I know it’s true . . . I’m just able to admit it now!
I am blessed to still have my Dad in my life. We will have our annual Father’s Day lunch – likely on my day off on Wednesday if he has the time, and as long as my Granddaughter is not in the process of being born (sorry Dad – Baby takes precedence!) and we’ll be able to do what we love to do . . . eat Mongolian Grill, talk politics and world events, and enjoy that time together. Who knows? Maybe if the weather is nice we can go for a walk together too! We’ll see what the day holds for us.
I love you Daddy . . . Happy Father’s Day!