My father turned 80 two days ago. This post is dedicated to him.
Some people, probably many people, have fathers who were either very difficult to live with or rather absent. This was not the case with me. I was blessed with a pretty amazing man for a father. I share this with you not so that you will be envious, but so you can rejoice that there was a man like him in this world.
My father was a carpenter. He worked hard in all seasons and for more than fifty years building and remodeling homes of exceptional quality. I occasionally still run into people who praise him and his work. We were never rich, but we were always well taken care of. I don’t know that he ever missed a day of work except for that time he went to check on a roof when it had been raining and he fell off and broke and bruised a couple of ribs and landed in the hospital.
He would come home from work roughly the same time each day and greet my mother with a hardy “Any phone calls, visitors, company, mail?” And then he’d give her a little kiss or squeeze. He’d wash up, we’d have dinner together, and then we all sat in the living room together watching TV or playing games or reading. In the summer, he might toss us some softballs or swim with us in our above-the-ground pool. He was home every single night unless he and Mom went away for a rare weekend or out to an occasional party or card night. He never hid in his room or a den. He never went out to bars or with friends. He was with us. Whenever he wasn’t working, he was with us.
On weekends, we’d often go to parks or take long drives through the country looking for deer. We took a lot of hikes. Sometimes we fished or skipped rocks. My Dad was the one who taught me the names of trees. It’s because of Dad I can tell the difference between an oak and a maple and a locust tree. It’s because of Dad that I can recognize a shag bark hickory or a horse chestnut. I think I learned my love of nature from him and his father, my beloved Grandpop.
Dad was a gregarious man and often the life of a party. He always greeted people with enthusiasm. Often he would tease people about something or other, or play practical jokes. Probably the most astonishing example was when he was dating Mom and they were driving somewhere together. He casually asked her if she had a stick of gum. She rummaged around in her purse and had trouble finding any, so he suggested she dump her purse out on the seat. (This was back in the day when there was one long front seat between the windows, with no space in the middle for gear shifts or compartments or cup holders.) Mom did as he suggested and there, writhing right next to her, was a little garter snake. She was so freaked out she opened her door and jumped out of the car while it was still moving!
In my hometown I would occasionally have the pleasure of running into a wonderful man named David. He and his family used to go to my parents’ church. A couple of times David went out of his way to tell me that Dad was the very first person at that church to greet him and talk with him and make him feel welcome. You will appreciate this even more when I tell you that David and his family are black and had the courage to walk into a church that was rather lily white. David and his family soon became regulars at that church and David eventually became an extremely well-loved assistant pastor there.
A few years ago, Dad started showing signs indicating a possible onset of Alzheimer’s. I missed the signs in the beginning because I was living out of state and only talked to him on the phone or saw him at Christmas. But after Mom had a heart attack, I moved in with them for a while and began to see the evidence of his decline.
He is now at the stage where he still recognizes his wife and kids, but he mixes up the grandchildren and forgets the names of anyone he didn’t know when he was young, and often, even them. He can do very little now. His attention span is too short and his confusion too great. But he can still love. And he can still be grateful. And he does both with beautiful regularity. He often tells his family members that he loves them, many times choking up in the process. And he never fails to say thank you – often so many times it nearly drives some people crazy! He appreciates every meal prepared, every person who gives him a ride, and every bit of assistance offered to either him or my mother.
He is such a beautiful soul and I am so grateful for him.
Thank you, Dad. You are such an incredible blessing.
I wish you peace and all the love you can handle.