Archive for Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A father you could be proud of

June 11, 2008

My dad was a day laborer. Our year went from feast to famine, depending upon the availability of work. I was in high school when he was forced to retire at 65 from the construction business; he took up truck farming to support us.

In the spring and summer when I was not in school, I helped - as did the other kids - plant onions and dig potatoes. Believe me when I tell you it was not easy work; it was, however, work, as my dad reminded me from time to time, of which you could be proud.

We had some of our best discussions crawling on our hands and knees planting onions, digging a hole with an index finger and sticking little green shoots into the dirt. My dad was a man of few words and even fewer when you were face to face with him.

From time to time he would impart, what I called, moments of wisdom. He wasn't particularly trying to be wise, just telling me some of the things he learned along life's journey, which for him had been long and hard.

I would tend to rattle on about anything and everything while he worked. He would sometimes stop and ask me if I had quarter words, as all the two-dollar words were too hard for him. I learned from those discussions to talk to my dad and later wrote my papers in a way that I hoped my dad would understand. Talking with him was important to me; having a common understanding between us was even more important.

Because he did not have the opportunities I had, I considered it a privilege to be able to bring home to him what I was learning. I was never ashamed of his third-grade education nor was I ashamed of his limited ability to read. What did shame me from time to time was when I would forget dime words and used dollar words with him instead, leaving him confused, even perplexed, and the distance between us painfully wide.

It was then I would retrace my steps, rethink my thoughts and reframe what I was trying to tell him. He became a better reader after my mom's heart attack, sitting next to her bed, reading and spelling words out of Zane Grey novels.

When I came home from college, I read to him. One of his favorite were poems from Edgar A. Guest's collection, A Heap o' Livin'. There was a line he liked in one titled "A Patriotic Wish" that goes something like: "I'd like to be the sort of man, the flag could boast about; I'd like to be the sort of man it cannot live without:"

Father's Day was made for men like him.

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