My dad died in August 1989 right before my 40th birthday. It was a great shock. He was a very strong-willed man. He had a dry sense of humor that came out sometimes and a temper. He had lost a lucrative job when he was around 40. He was a trouble-shooter in his company and was sent to various locations to straighten out their messes. Once he began standing up for slightly shady practices against their clients by the owners, he was let go. Finding white-collar work after 40 was difficult. I think his inner anger was frustration at what had happened and at his inability to be the major breadwinner.
I have odd disjointed memories of him. I totally admired him but was slightly intimidated by him. He was very intelligent with an above average IQ and he could remember every book he ever read with an almost photographic memory. I remember when we were kids we would ask him to tell us about a subject for school. He would define it and tell us the history behind it. We knew we could depend on him to tell us anything until he caught on to us kids and began telling us to ‘look it up in the dictionary or encyclopedia’.
I remember him taking us on family vacations. They might be only overnight or weekend trips to places not too far away, but we went somewhere for many years. We would buy snacks for the car and it was a grand adventure. I remember walking around the top of Mount Capulin in New Mexico holding his hand. The wind was blowing and I was a little scared but he held on to me and protected me.
I remember a time when he was unemployed. I remember him mopping the kitchen floor to help out Mom, and I remember him baking strawberry or cherry rhubarb pies. They were a favorite of his but I didn’t like them much.
After I was married, I remember typing up his resumes. He was forced to take jobs at service stations pumping gas and later worked for the City in the maintenance department. It was a great trial for him. Many of his coworkers didn’t even have a high school education and he couldn’t relate to them very well. The fact that he had been reduced to this type of work was difficult for him, but he put on a smiling countenance.
I have a childhood memory of sitting around the kitchen table eating supper. I would ask for him to pass the butter and when I reached out my hand, he would spread a dab of butter on the top of my hand. We would all giggle in surprise and appreciation of his clever sense of humor.
I remember him being very self-contained. He was content to stay at home, watch tv or read for entertainment. He was strongly political. He had served in the Army in the Korean War. He listened to religious programs on the radio and I remember him talking to them or ranting at the radio. He listened to Tennessee Ernie Ford and had some of his records. I remember him sitting at night and reading the Bible. When we were older, he began taking us to church. Later in his life, he gave to many social and religious charities always thinking there were others in the world more needy.
I remember the first time I saw him in a pair of tennis shoes. I was so accustomed to him wearing a suit and dress shoes when searching for better work, that to see him ‘ordinary’ was a little shocking to me. He thought my surprise was funny.
He loved us very much, but was never able to express it openly to us. I only remember seeing my parents embrace and share a kiss one time. I remember a time he got so angry he put his fist into a wall which left a dent, but he never believed in touching any of us or our mother. He loved his family but his anger took its toll on our younger brother. My brother was 10 when I got married, so I was not around much. I think Dad was worried about what would happen to Brother when he was gone. He despaired of him ‘making something of himself’ and was verbally abusive to him.
When my mother wanted ‘more’ in their relationship and later divorced him, I think he was surprised. He didn’t know just because he was content, she might have more needs.
His death left a big hole in my life. He was the first family member I lost. As the oldest sibling, I had to be the strong one and make the arrangements and the phone calls. Even after death, he gave of himself. I found out he had signed papers to give his eyes and a lot of his skin to help others.
It’s odd that he popped into my head today and these disjointed memories surfaced. The main memory was of a strong, humorous man I was slightly intimidated by. I admired his intelligence and his strength of will. I feel he helped to give me a recognition that faith in God was important. He gave me the love of reading. My handwriting is very much like his. And he unknowingly taught me to fear conflict or strife in the home. I think I learned to never want anger because it was strong and scary and could be something uncontrollable. It taught me a stoicism and a refusal to rise to express anger with others.
It has been 26 years since his death and now I realize, it must be close to the anniversary of his death today. I know it was in August and perhaps that is why he came to mind today. He gave me many things which helped shape me as the person I am today. My body type came from him. My Scottish, German ancestry came from him. I remember his smile and his dry sense of humor. Most important, he will always hold a special place in my memories. After all…he was my dad.