My father passed away in October, so today, I’m facing my first fatherless Father’s Day. I had a hard time figuring out what to write; there is so much that I’m just not quite ready to talk about yet. I decided to come up with a list of things that I learned from my Dad.
1. Be creative. Improvise.
Dad could fix anything with duct tape, although that’s not the only thing he used. He never let the lack of the proper tool slow him down; not having the proper tool is just an excuse. Sometimes he would invent a tool on the spot to do what he needed. And come Halloween, if he didn’t have a good pumpkin, he might just go with a turnip from the garden.
2. Tell your stories.
Family stories are a gift. They help you understand what made your parents the way they are, what made you the way you are. They are the structure that defines the culture of your family. The paragraph below was excerpted from a 30 page autobiography Dad left for us before he died. It paints a picture of family life in 1950s Los Angeles, it also paints a picture of my grandfather, whom I never really got to know but was so instrumental in shaping my father into the man he was to become.
“One of my favorite memories of this time was Wednesday nights. That was payday and Dad would bring home a big load of groceries. He was a deputy for the L.A. County Sheriff and drove a blue 1948 Buick. I remember French bread and celery and we usually had spaghetti because that was Dad’s favorite dish. He would also like to have some red wine with his spaghetti. He would take his first glass and take a sip. He would screw up his face like it tasted worse than castor oil, vinegar, and turpentine all mixed together and as he unscrewed his face he’d say, “Man, that’s good!” About this time he told me he wanted me to sit on his left. He explained (kidding, of course) that it was so he could “come across with this one” making a fist. Mom sat on his right so he could pat her on the shoulder so she would know he had just said something funny and (perhaps apologizing for being so corny) it was time to laugh. It was at this age, perhaps, that I began to appreciate how much my Dad loved my Mom.”
3. Read bedtime stories to your children.
In my earliest years, Dad was a full time college student working two part time jobs. Mom would adjust our bedtime to fit his work schedule and he would come home between shifts to read us a bedtime story and tuck us in. Bed time stories were a sacred tradition in our home. My parents had five kids and we would all pile up on someone’s bed every night for the bedtime story. He didn’t just read Dr. Seuss (although there was plenty of that, and Richard Scarry, and Where the Wild Things Are). As we got older he moved on to the classics like Heidi, The Swiss Family Robinson, Kidnapped, Treasure Island… We learned to love reading and stories. I learned to read by watching him read and following his finger as it dragged across the page. And every night we had that bonding time.
4. Be Happy.
Dad used that phrase a lot. He would often sign off on his letters saying “be happy.” He taught us, and modeled for us, that happiness is a choice and not an accident of circumstance. Choose happiness. Have fun. Laugh. Joke. Be Silly.
Defrosting the freezer can be a chore (remember when we had to do that?) or it can be a blast. The choice is yours.
5. Send Letters.
It didn’t matter if it was Toledo, New Orleans, or another city in our state, whenever Dad went somewhere on a business trip he sent us postcards. Not one card for all of us; each of us got our own postcard. It wasn’t a big expense, and it didn’t take a lot of time, but the payoff for us kids feeling loved and appreciated and remembered and valued – well, you can’t put a price on that. He wrote letters too. Whenever Mom would put together a care package for one of us, Dad would pack it up and include a note. It usually wasn’t very long, a few paragraphs, but I always read the note before I looked to see what else was in the box. Don’t underestimate the value of these letters. They meant enough to me that I still have a box in which I keep all the postcards and letters from Dad. And don’t confuse letters with emails. There’s something about the handwriting that makes it more personal and more meaningful.
This is the last and most precious letter I received from my Dad right after he died.
I miss you Dad.
Happy Fathers’ Day.