I’m putting my Father’s Day column out here on my Weblog because because I like how it turned out.
Normally, when I sit down to write something for these pages, I don’t expect to hear from anyone about what I had to say and usually I don’t. A few weeks ago, however, I wrote a Mother’s day column about mothers and my mom in particular and I heard from several folks about that one.
“Why don’t you write something about your father for Father’s day?” My wife, Susie said after I told her about the letters I had received.
“I can’t.” I told her. ”I barely remember him.” He died in an accident 19 days after my 6th birthday and when I try to recollect what I knew of him, all I get are 2 or 3 fleeting glimpses of this man racing through a fog in my brain like an MTV commercial. I can never catch those thoughts long enough to nail down a good picture of him. Ihere are few photographs; an army boot camp picture which is of no help since he’s wearing a gas mask and a high school class picture. And now, thanks to my advancing age, the fog surrounding my memories is getting worse each time I try to remember. There’s not much I can say.
“Can’t do it, Susie.” I told her after staring at my computer monitor for a while. Where was I to find nine hundred words to write about this fellow, my father who, thanks to a ride on a pre war vintage motorcycle, one day was in our lives and the next day he wasn’t. This meant that my brother and I had to get along without our designated male role model for a few years. It leaves me wondering if he had not taken that ride, would the two of us been entirely different people then we ended up being? .
Last week, on an overcast afternoon, I was on my way to my hometown for a visit. The windshield wipers staccato beat cleared the drizzle from my view as I rounded the curve on the hill east of the 4-h fairgrounds where the motorcycle left the road and tumbled down a shallow ravine all those years ago. In hundreds of trips in the intervening time, I have never even so much as slowed down as I went by. But on this trip something told me I should.
I pulled over a few hundred yards beyond the scene and then walked back in the rain to the spot where I imagined he died. The oncoming traffic, much of it made up of coal trucks, blew drizzling raindrops, bits of dirt and flecks of coal in my face as I made my way along the side of the road. I don’t know what I was looking for; it’s been almost 70 years after all. I was hoping for some sort of epiphany or revelation perhaps but sad to say, nothing came of it. It was just a shallow ravine with a couple of dead trees rotting away at the bottom.
I suppose I will have to be satisfied with what others have told me about him. My mother told me of his prowess on the dance floor and I don’t doubt it for a minute. However, my own clumsy efforts at tripping the light fantastic tells me that either I did not inherit that skill or else my mother’s opinion could have been biased by her love for this man.
I have also heard that my father was a sportsman. One of those fleeting glimpses I spoke of earlier reminds me that I tagged along on a fishing trip to the river on a couple of occasions. My cousin Jack contributed the fact that my father was indeed, an avid fisherman. Because of this, I feel like I should be a fisherman but try as I might, I have never learned to love the sport.
Although it’s neither true nor fair of me, it’s easy to blame the loss of my father on my athletic abilities. I tell myself that his absence left with me no one to teach me how to hit a curveball or shoot a foul shot. All of you folks who were wondering why I ended up a member of the high school cheerleading squad now know why.
The age of Puberty was another problem. I never had the birds and bees talk with my father and the duty should have fallen to my poor, almost Victorian-age mother but she could never have done that. I had to learn from my older neighbor, Eddie Joe, who filled me in on some of the particulars, I didn’t believe him.
”You’re crazy, Eddie Joe. My mom wouldn’t do that.” I said, whopping him in the stomach as hard as my 9 year old muscles would allow.
And speaking of that puberty business, I also didn’t have my father around to teach me the art of courtship. Being on my own, I bungled my first few efforts and it’s only by the grace of God that I didn’t become a priest.
Looking back, it’s easy to see that I am who I am because of that motorcycle ride my father took 68 years ago and to a lesser degree, the effects are present in my children. They are who they are because of that same trip. In the end, I guess it can be said that for better or worse, most of us are who we are because of our parents.
On this Father’s day weekend, If your father’s still around, give him a big hug on his day and no matter how hard it is to get the words out, tell your dad you love him.
I had to delete a lot of what I wanted to say because there just isn’t room in the newspaper to put all of my ramblings but here I can show you some of what got left behind.
Not having a father to teach me how to drive left me completely clueless when I climbed behind the wheel of the Drivers Education car, a 1956 ford with the first padded dashboard seen in North America. In our school, most teachers had a nickname, thus a slow-moving Drivers Ed teacher named Mr. Zip was in the passenger seat, teaching me how to negotiate the hills and dales of Southern Indiana. It’s no wonder the poor man lit one cigarette after another as I tried to keep the car between the roadside ditches. Mr. Zip actually did move fast on this day; setting that revolutionary padded dashboard on fire while parking his cigarette in the dashboard mounted ash tray surrounded by all that vinyl covered foam. That was also my first lesson in poor dashboard design.
I was also told by my older sister, a young woman when our dad died and a person who was hurt terribly by the loss, that our dad was a person who thought he could do anything. “But he couldn’t.” she said. “He didn’t have any goddamn business being on that motorcycle. He didn’t know anything at all about riding one of those things.”