Friday, December 10, 2010
Remembering my father on his birthday
Yet, I know that he was born on a snowy morning in Virginia. He was the youngest child and had three sisters. One of the sisters ran across the farm field to tell a neighbor that she had a baby brother born that morning. I try to imagine what it must have been like to be in that big old house. I would have liked to know my father as a young man. I wish many times that I had asked his sisters what he was like and what he liked to do.
I really only know about him as a young man from my mother. My mother told me a story about how they first met. My dad sent a friend of his to ask my mother if she would go out with him. My mother retorted, "Tell him to ask me himself". Good answer, I thought. So they went on that date to a floating theater. My father was so nervous that he dropped his wallet. I suppose that he was already smitten by my mother even before that first date.
I have looked at pictures from that time of him and see a handsome man who towers above my petite mother. I have my mother's diary and have read about the parties they would have before I was born. There would be oyster roasts and card games. I have nothing that was written by my father, other than a few signatures that I cherish and a letter that he wrote to my mother that professed great love for her. I never received a letter from him. My father was a man of few words and didn't talk about feelings to me. We didn't have those fatherly chats that I've read about. I wish that we had.
But he left me a lot of other things that I am grateful for.
He taught me how to care for a large vegetable garden growing in the backyard. He loved to grow vegetables. He would till up the soil, plant tomatoes, beans, corn, and strawberries. I would help him put the seeds in the ground. It was my job thereafter to weed and water the plants. From doing this I learned responsibility.
My father taught me how to fish and feel at home on the water. He was quite a fisherman. He always had a boat, and we would get up early to be able to hit the water on the last of ebb tide. He showed me how to bait my hook, wait for the fish to bite and then set the hook. My father taught me how to run the boat and to read the water. From watching and waiting for fish and tide I learned patience.
My father taught me about monetary values. I was given a weekly allowance but was not allowed to spend it freely. I was told to put some of it aside so that it would accumulate into a larger sum. I was taught to think about what I spent money on and to not buy things that wouldn't last. My father would not loan money to others, but he would loan tools and give away fish and vegetables to neighbors and friends. From this, I learned appreciation of what I had, and about charity.
My father taught me to tell the truth. He had a suspicion that I was taking his cigarettes and smoking them with my cousin when I was around 7 years old. He asked me if I had stolen them and was smoking. I told him that I had. He lectured me but told me that I did right by telling the truth because my punishment would have been worse had I not. He told me that he couldn't stand a liar. From him, I learned about honesty.
My father taught me that actions speak louder than words. He wasn't a "windbag" or "blowhard". He would listen to what others had to say and then make his own decisions. He said that there were a lot of people who could talk their way out of anything but it was their deeds that were important. I learned the importance of doing from him.
My father taught me to care for animals and to love them. The few times I saw him cry were when an animal died or was hurt. He once took my cat to the medical doctor to get a fish hook out of her mouth. There was no vet in town at the time. "Mama cat" became a star and was written up in the local paper. From him, I learned about empathy.
My father taught me to stand up for myself. He never let people walk all over him. And he wasn't afraid to speak his mind if provoked. He didn't like injustice to people or animals. He didn't look down on people but treated everyone he met fairly, unless they proved to be unfair. From him, I learned about fairness.
And I know that there were many other life lessons that I learned from my father. All of these things he taught me have shaped me. And somewhere along the line he also learned those things as he was growing up. Perhaps his father taught them to him. Like each of us, he had his own demons, and often I would wish that he were different. Yet, as an adult, I realize that he did a good job in teaching me to think and do for myself.
Although I won't get to ask him all the things that I wish I had asked him when he was alive, I realize that by understanding myself better, perhaps I have also reached an understanding of who he was.