Sunday, June 21, 2009

25 Random Things About My Father

I mentioned once before, just in passing, John Eldredge's claim, in Wild at Heart, that every man is wounded somehow by his father. I implied in that earlier post that such wasn't the case with me. Today, Father's Day, I want to state it outright.

I do not believe I suffered any psychic wounding at the hands of my father, ever.

Honestly, that's no small claim. I've watched other men and their dads. I've watched women and their father's too. I had acquaintances long ago that couldn't return home when they left the Air Force Academy they hated because their fathers told them not to come home if they quit. I had a so much more than friend, who will likely read this, who went there for a year, because her father told her if she would try it for that long, he would foot the bill for college elsewhere--she did; he did not. I've heard fathers say things to children in public that made my heart ache.

I had and have the best father I know. I know a couple more who are right up there with him (my new father-in-law among them), and I have friends who think or thought the same of their fathers. We are lucky people, those of us in this club, and today is a day we celebrate that luck.

Not all that long ago, I posted 25 Random Things About Me. Today, I'm going to take a shot at publishing another 25 about him. Wish me luck.

25 Random Things About My Father
  1. He has taken up the drums. At least, he bought a drum set months ago, and for a while at least, he was playing them. This is especially interesting to me because a little less than four years ago, I took drum lessons for a short while. Neither I nor my father knew this about one another, which is a good segue to the next point:
  2. My father's life has mirrored mine in so many ways that it's genuinely eerie, especially romantically. I could elaborate, but I'm going to leave it at that for now.
  3. I suspect my father of being a closet adrenaline junkie. He owned a motorcycle from the time my parents split up until well into his second marriage. And he was, after all, a volunteer fire chief for over a decade.
  4. When I left for the Air Force Academy, over three decades ago, the last thing I remember him saying to me as I walked out of Charlotte's Douglas Airport to climb the stairs to a waiting jet, other than, "I love you," is, "If you get there and you don't like it, son, you know you can always come home." It put staying there all on my shoulders. No expectation, no threats, no rebellion value in leaving (not that I ever felt any need to rebel). It made it possible to stay even during the months that I hated it most and seriously thought of leaving. Having options makes almost any task less onerous.
  5. In all the years of my youth, he gave me only one spanking I hadn't genuinely earned. That one time, he was acting on misinformation from my Sunday school teacher. I didn't forget, but I didn't really hold it against him either. I just never liked that teacher much after that.
  6. I've seen him pitch nearly perfect games of horseshoes. At Five Forks ball park in China Grove, NC, I watched him and Lee Smith, on their way to winning first place in a church league, throw ringer after ringer from one end to the other. It was awe inspiring.
  7. He taught me gun safety at an early age, and how to shoot birds on the wing, to drain a rabbit's bladder before putting it in your hunting coat, how to build a rabbit trap, and how to enjoy the beauty of good bird dogs working a field.
  8. He also taught me, by example, to think of all men as equals, at least equal in worth and rights, vehemently disdaining all the petty prejudices that so many fathers so sadly wean their children on. The stories in this regard are almost legend and fodder for longer posts at a later date. I'll simply say here that had Harper Lee known him, and if you knew him and her novel, you would think him her model for Atticus Finch.
  9. He blames a long tour in Alaska, at Gambell Air Base, on St Lawrence Island, for the early loss of his hair. His seven brothers each kept theirs most of their lives.
  10. His children have always come first in his life. Whatever other ambitions he may have had, I truly believe that being a good father was the ruling goal of his existence. God knows, he put up with more, and sacrificed more, for our sake than any other man I know would have.
  11. Right behind Atticus Finch, the character from fiction that he is most like would be Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry. He was, for all practical purposes, the unspoken mayor of the small town in which I grew up. Smaller than Mayberry.
  12. He can teach anyone to waterski and he was always good at it himself. For the most part, when anyone learned to waterski with us, they learned to slalom, right out of the gate.
  13. He plays a wicked game of hopscotch. He always played with us on the shore during our annual vacations at Windy Hill Beach, SC, and I have since played more than a few times with my own daughters.
  14. He loves tractors. He may think we haven't caught on to that, but he does. I'm not entirely certain there isn't a frustrated farmer trapped in him somewhere.
  15. His two greatest shots in golf may have been his hole-in-one and his blind eagle. The hole-in-one was so dead on that it bent the base of the pin going into the hole. In basketball lingo, he "stripped the net." His blind eagle I was there for--a par-four on which he'd hooked the ball into the adjacent fairway, hiding the green from him behind a set of pines dividing the two holes. He hit the ball over the pines on his second shot and into the hole. I found it there. He was still looking everywhere else.
  16. His dedication to golf during my youth was such that my youngest sister once recited the days of the week as, "Sunday, Monday, Golfday, Wednesday, Thursday . . . " He worked all day on Saturdays until he retired, but only half a day on Tuesdays. He is as good a golf coach as he is a ski coach. I should have tried out for the golf team at the Academy instead of wasting my time with track.
  17. He would still like to learn to fly. He says he's let that ambition go, but I think I know better.
  18. He can fix or build just about anything.
  19. So far as I know, he has never cultivated any of the vices that other men, including myself are prey to. He doesn't swear, drink, or smoke, and yet he doesn't begrudge other men those "pleasures." I think he is simply cautious of the genes he carries, having had a father, grandfather, and more than one brother for whom these things were problems.
  20. He is fiercely and poignantly patriotic. I remember him once calling me to the window over our kitchen sink, pointing to the flag flying at the fire station he helped found about a quarter mile away, and saying, "Isn't that beautiful?"
  21. In our family business, he was all about Total Quality Management and focusing on the customer long before TQM became a watchword for the rest of the world. I remember trying to figure out what the fuss was about when the Air Force tried to institute TQM because I had always thought those principals were common knowledge. I've learned better since.
  22. He is a true gentleman--gentle and yet fiercely strong. He is always polite. He opens my stepmother's car door, holds her chair, helps her with her coat.
  23. He's more or less ambidextrous. He plays sports left-handed, yet he writes right-handed. It makes him very handy to have around when your ball is up against a tree and you really need a left-handed club to swing.
  24. What he lacks in distance these days, he more than makes up in accuracy. I've been able to outdrive him since college, but I've never outscored him on the links.
  25. I love him. I admire him. And I still want to be like him when I grow up.
Happy Father's Day, Dad.