My Dad's birthday was last Saturday, March 8th.
Had he lived, he would have been 106. I am surprised he is not here, because he planned to live to be at least 100. And he could have. He didn't drink or smoke, was active, ate well...but he ascribed to a religion that believed in the power of prayer over medical help and he died too young at 83 of prostate cancer, something that was curable.
I spent last Saturday in quiet reflection about my Dad, his effect on my life and where I came from.
I could never repay him for all he did for me, all he gave me, so I felt I owed him that much. As I thought about him, I thought about what a wonderful Dad he had been and what traits he embodied - the traits that made him a great Dad.
My Dad was born in 1908, something that still blows my mind.
Here I am in the 21st Century using a computer to write a blog that will go out to the world in a matter of seconds and my Dad was born when most people were still riding around in horse-drawn carriages (only 144 miles of roads in all of the U.S. were even paved), telephones were not yet common in the home and the average wage was 22 cents per hour.
No wonder my parents didn't understand the Beatles or women burning their bras.
My Dad was an only child which was unusual for the times. Likewise, his mother was a high school teacher and the major bread winner. Also unusual.
I think my Dad was a mama's boy, because family lore paints my grandfather as a stern disciplinarian who was not averse to capital punishment. My Dad and his Mom would go to the movies together. He loved movies and knew all of the actors and actresses. I remember many late nights watching the old movies with my Dad and talking about the actors and him trying to hide his tears during the sad parts (he would laugh quietly and pretend to be wiping his forehead with his handkerchief, but I knew).
So my love of movies certainly came from my Dad.
So what made him such a great Dad?
He supported his children in their interests and dreams.
My sister was a tennis player so he played tennis with her until she outplayed him. As she played her way into championships, he bought her the best tennis rackets and financed trips to tournaments.
My brother loved hot cars so they worked on cars together and my Dad bought him a 1955 Chevy with a pleated interior and raced the souped up family cars at the local drag racing venue. And my Dad didn't even mind his drag racing on the street because my Dad did it too!
I wanted to be an actress and he never discouraged me. He would even say I could start as a script girl and work my way up - his way of being supportive, though he obviously didn't really understand the film business, because that would never happen. But I appreciated his interest.
And no matter what the ups and downs and disappointments he must have felt from his childrens' lives, he always found the positive.
As I said, he supported our interests both emotionally and monetarily.
And we were not rich, by any means. This was the 50's and 60's when most women stayed home and the husband was the sole financial support. That was the way it was in our home, and my Dad didn't make that much money. He handed over his main check to my mother for the household expenses and then he would work two or three extra jobs to finance his own passions, which were cars, guns, music and his kids.
Even though my family was of moderate income, my parents always bought the best of everything, believing that you get what you pay for. But that doesn't mean we had everything.
I remember many of my friends had all of the latest clothes and my inability to keep up with that probably started me on my road to "clothes horse-dom," but my Dad did understand that I wanted to look like the other kids. He was a soft touch when it came to my saying, "But all of the other kids have that," to which he would reply, "Well, if that's the case..." He also thought I should have enough clothes so that I never had to wear the same thing twice in a week (I probably now have enough clothes that I would never have to wear the same thing in a YEAR! But I digress.) He bought me my first pair of heels (in which I took a tumble at church much to my brother's delight) and started giving me money to buy my own clothes when I was 12, after my mother and I had a big fight over what bathing suit I should buy - she insisted upon my buying one that looked like a sailor suit! My Dad understood that a girl had to "graduate" to big girl swim suits some time.
It's easy to think my Dad's generosity spoiled me, but there is also a saying that those who are cheap with money are cheap with love. He was generous with both.
He enjoyed surprising his family with gifts, but he was also generous with his time and himself. When I was a teenager, I was the only one of my group who could get the car when it snowed (he thought I needed to learn how to drive in snow some time) and there were times when he actually let me use the car when he also needed it, because I had promised my friends. He would walk.
When he did things like that for me, it did not go unnoticed even if I was young and spoiled.
If I admired something I wanted in a store window, I would probably get that as my birthday present or even just a surprise a week later.
I loved to eat fish. He didn't, so we never had it in our house. But every Friday, he would bring me the fish patty from the cafeteria at his work wrapped in a little napkin.
And once when my Dad was driving my college roommate and me home for Thanksgiving, he stopped at a store to get me a scarf I had wanted and when he came back to the car, he had purchased the same scarf for my roommate as well.
He also liked to buy my mother hats.
Remember when women wore hats?
Because my parents were 40 when I was born and I had my children late in life, my children didn't get to spend much time with their grandparents (they were 72 when my son was born). But they looked after the kids one summer when Hubby and I went on a trip, and though my son may only remember that his Granddaddy got a bit impatient with him when he was trying to teach him to cut his meat, I hope he also remembers that he had some baseball cards for him when he arrived and went out of his way to entertain him, even though it had been years since little kids had been in the house.
He also went out of his way to make his own kids feel special. When I was in a play, he would send me a telegram (remember those?) to wish me luck and he wrote me long letters when I was in college, which always included a couple of bucks.
He loved to tell jokes.
He was a bit of a prude, so no off color jokes, just your silly "knock knock" jokes and Henny Youngman type jokes ("Take my wife, please.") He would play the piano and sing silly songs and read me the Sunday comics every Sunday. He always seemed to "get a kick out of things."
And every morning, when he came in to wake me up, he would say, "Rise and shine. Save your confederate money, the South will rise again!" I am not even sure what that meant because he surely wasn't from the South, but he thought it was hilarious and his enthusiasm was enough to get even someone like me (I hate morning) to get up.
Interested in a lot of things.
Some of my favorite memories are of my Dad sitting at the dining room table late at night working on his "lesson" for church, and I would come staggering in from a night of fun with friends, reeking of cigarette smoke ("Oh, no, Dad. I don't smoke. Mary smokes and it must have gotten on my clothes.")
My parents didn't smoke and they were both teetotalers as well, so I must have literally lit up the place when I got home. But when I got home, he would stop what he was doing and we would debate topics of the day, including religion. He was always interested in my views on things even if they weren't his views. He was very curious about everything. He would learn about something and share it and then say, "Imagine that!"
He also liked to collect guns and target shoot; he played trumpet in a dance band (his band played at my prom) and he could also play the piano, banjo, and harmonica and did all of the arrangements for his band; he collected American muscle cars (he had a 440 Charger, a Chrysler 300 and a Barracuda with a hemi engine),
he loved movies, television, swing band music, car racing, sports, taking pictures (tons of them) and always wanted to be a cowboy.
(Note the hat: Pharrell Williams had nothing on my Dad!)
My father believed that love was doing something for someone that you really didn't want to do, but you did it anyway and without recrimination or expecting anything in return. That was huge. It's difficult to find people who will go out of their way these days.
I miss my Dad very much, especially now that I am in the last part of my life.
With my children far-flung and my trying to navigate these murky waters of retirement, I wish I could ask him more questions and seek his comfort and counsel when things get tough.
Though I am glad I told him what he meant to me while he was alive, I would love to share this with him now.
And he would have loved to have been a blogger.
Later in his life, he spent much of his time writing, not just the book he was working on, but trying to save the world by writing to his legislators (much to my Mother's chagrin)!
Here is a letter to then Governor Romney (yes, Mitt's dad).
Looks like my Dad was thinking drivers should be able to make citizen's arrests!
I hope I was able to pass on some of what my Dad gave to me to my children, and now that my son is a father, I hope he will do likewise with his two sons, and in so doing, my Dad still lives.
And the Beat Goes On...
See you Friday for the
"Ten Greatest Musicals of All Time"
(and I hope for some debate)
and The Week in Reviews
Thanks for reading!
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