Archive for Thursday, June 25, 2009

Holiday conjures fond memories of father

June 25, 2009

He never met a stranger. He was a natural-born storyteller with a broad, seemingly inexhaustible repertoire of tales, some of which may even have been true.

Sunday was Fathers Day, and as I took congratulatory calls from my children, my thoughts naturally went back to my own father.

He’s been gone more than 20 years now, but I still miss him. It’s strange how that works, after so many years. Some people make such a lasting impression. Sometimes I find myself wishing I could talk with him. I’ll see something on the television or in the newspaper and wonder what he’d have to say about it. He usually had an opinion on just about anything and if it wasn’t always well-considered, it would at least be colorfully expressed.

I suppose for the sake of accuracy I should say that he was my stepfather, but in truth he was the only father I ever knew. My biological father went away to war, never to return, when I was just a few months old, and my mother remarried when I was 4.

Our relationship was a little rocky at first, but I began calling him “Dad” by the time I was 6 or 7. I vaguely remember that it was an event of some import the first time that happened.

Actually, I always knew that I had two fathers. My stepdad was there for day-to-day concerns, but my mother saw to it that I stayed close to members of my biological father’s family, even after we moved away from them to the city. I don’t know that she really had much choice – one aunt, the matriarch of the family, stayed close to us all through the years.

To add a further layer of complexity to the relationship, my stepfather and my father had worked together and were friends before the war. Both were truck drivers. My stepfather understood my need to be with my father’s family from time to time. Of course it didn’t hurt that he really liked them as well.

For some reason, it seems that many of the conversations we had occurred with one or the other of us behind a steering wheel, usually going somewhere in the family car. One of the earliest of these was a bit longer though.

Until I was grown and on my own, I spent at least part of each summer with my dad’s family in western Kansas. Usually my aunt, who owned a dress shop in Colby, would come to Kansas City for the summer market, then we’d ride the train back together. Once I was about 10 or so I got to ride by myself, but until then someone would ride with me.

But I remember one year, my stepdad picked me up in his truck in Colby, and I rode back in the cab all the way to Kansas City. Looking back, it seemed like a long trip. I remember we spent the night in Topeka – the truck had a rudimentary sleeper cab – and we went to see a Tarzan movie there.

He was not a well-educated man – he only finished the eighth grade – but what he might have lacked in knowledge he made up in wisdom. He read the newspaper every day and was always well informed on the happenings of the day. In the end, he was just a man who lived an ordinary life like a lot of ordinary men. He was no great philosopher, he just wanted to be with his family and to see everyone hale and hearty.

My memories of him are thankfully unclouded by the terrors of advanced age that can so often accompany the end of life. The last time I saw him, he and my mother came to visit us for a weekend in the city where we were then living. We went to an 1842 living history presentation at a historic site there. One feature was a dance in an army barracks, and he danced a turn with one of the women who was re-enacting the dance. The next day, they went home, and two nights later, he went to bed feeling fine and simply didn’t wake up the next morning.

I learned a lot from him – not the least of which being what it means to be a dad. I can only hope my children will someday have similar memories of me.

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