Tuesday, February 23, 2010
My dad would have been sixty-five today... a landmark birthday—except he died at 31. That is a lot of life to have missed, more than half. And it's three quarters of my life to have missed him.
My father was a pampered middle child, only boy, and the apple of his mother's eye—he could do no wrong, and internalized it... and then passed that on (I never do anything wrong either—nor does my daughter, no matter what anybody else might think). Son of Seventh Day Adventists, he should have been a humble man committed to service, but instead he was always sort of larger than life. He was loud with his opinions, and even louder in his play.
He was twenty when he married my mother, because in 1965 that was what you did when you knocked up your girlfriend, and by all accounts, he never really grew up. He had a couple semesters of college—I think that must have been when he was spending his summers roofing—he'd come home with an ungodly stink and black tar splattered on his pants. My mom would complain that she couldn't get it out and it would ruin the washer and dryer, but he couldn't seem to get straight that he should always wear the same pair of pants. Sometimes it was paint instead of tar—the odd jobs for the owner of the hardware store—a hardware store he eventually bought, though never did pay for.
He was an outdoorsman in the classic Idaho sense (as opposed to the Oregon sense where you just go hike and spend time in it). He hunted, whitewater rafted, fished. He felt obliged to pack a case of beer for each day he'd be out... or so it seemed.
It took me a long time to reconcile the frequently absent man with the adoring dad, but you can see from these pictures, he was. He may not have been prepared for the hand he was dealt, and he may have played it rather badly, but it doesn't take away from loving me.
His sense of humor was a little off. I adored him back, so periodically he'd teach me something wrong so it could drive my mother crazy. I think I was four when he had me insisting Snow White lived with the DORFS (not Dwarves)--big practical joke on mom. *rolls eyes* But he taught me to play chess when I was 7 'because I don't think mom can learn it'--you see the pattern here... giant ego, messing with everybody else. Still, the game time was nice.
If He'd Lived
My father and I never would have seen eye to eye on... pretty much anything... he was machismo personified, and nothing makes me more nuts. He was politically conservative (well Libertarian, in that outdoorsy, gun-toting way) and I'd be socialist if it was a viable party in the US. But he would have liked that—that I never took anybody else's opinions as mine—that I made my own way, forging the path that was clearly not the easiest.
Since He Didn't
It was a hard time in history to grow up without a dad. It was before divorces really took off—LONG before people just didn't bother to get married. So it was uncles and grandfathers to the daddy-daughter banquets. There was mostly just sympathy, I think—at least in those early years when people 'knew'. And there was an odd bond over the years to people who likewise lost a parent young.
I think the biggest price was my lack of awareness that men are people. He lived long enough to idolize, and not long enough to be torn asunder, which is of course what teens DO with their parents. So I had no clue how to critically evaluate the good from the bad. I didn't make any devastating choices, but I certainly was probably more eager for approval than was healthy, and stayed too long more than once because I thought it was just how things went.
I idolized him when young, then when older, justified that 'he wasn't a great dad anyway'-- I think so I'd be less sad to have missed so much. But it's come back around. I don't need to think he was perfect, to see the good—and it's okay to miss what I missed. It doesn't make me less whole.
I think he would have rolled his eyes at this writing adventure I'm on... and then taken me for a big celebration when I succeed, claiming he always knew, even though he never said so.