A few Februaries back, I took a selfie just before the Clean Lake Alliance’s Frozen Assets 5K run on Lake Mendota. I stared at the photo, thinking: “Dang. I look just like my dad.”
It was, simultaneously, a hilarious and sobering moment.
Over the years I began to recognize more and more of my father’s traits in me, and also those of my grandfathers. Some good, and others…not so favorable. I am blessed to have both sets of grandparents still living, and I like to think I know them pretty well. I believe I got my “snark” and teasing humor from my maternal grandfather and my penchant for careful deliberation and stocky frame from my paternal grandfather. My grandfathers differ in their personalities, but they both are good, hard-working men who provided for their families, remained faithful to their wives, and are generous with their grandchildren. They both were avid deer-hunters in their day and love the outdoors. I practically grew up running around outside, playing with my cousins in Rothschild or roaming the shores of Tippecanoe Lake. One day, I will share stories from my childhood showing just how large a role both sets of my grandparents and the outdoors played in my life.
My father also worked hard to provide for his family. He worked rotating shifts at a paper carton packaging plant for over thirty-five years. It wore him down, sometimes. I got a taste of what he endured when I worked at the same company as a vacation replacement for the regular employees during the summers of my college years. This stint convinced me pretty quickly that I disliked factory work. And yet, my dad put up with it until he was sixty-two, when he retired. This is a man who double-majored in history and political science and has a college degree from UW-Madison. He thought about becoming a lawyer or a teacher, but would have loved nothing more than to coach children’s sports teams, or so he claims.
Throughout my childhood, my parents bickered often and still argue quite frequently but they remain together to this day in spite of all their disagreements. I learned a lot about forbearance, patience, and forgiveness from my parents. Unlike my mother, whose fury is quickly spent in a verbal tirade, my father is not a particularly vocal man and tends to quietly hold a grudge. The words that spring to mind when I think of him are taciturn and stubborn. Sometimes, I joke that he’s obsessive compulsive because of the weird things he did and still does. For example, cutting down the ends of chip and bread bags as their contents depleted. Replacing a broken toilet tank-lever with fishing wire attached to a bobber. Turning on all of the televisions and radios in the house–at the same time–and watching or listening to none of them. Or affixing power strips to wooden furniture in such a way that it wrecks the finish. Just thinking about some of his odd habits makes me smile, even as it drives my mother crazy.
It is sometimes difficult for me to spend time with my father. Not because we don’t get along, but because I feel we have little to talk about. My mother and I can easily find things to discuss: church, school, children, baking, flowers, etc. But my father? When I call my parents, he hands me off to my mother after five minutes, tops, of awkward conversation.
At first glance, my father and I appear to have few interests in common. In his youth, he was a decent student and participated in football, softball, volleyball, and probably other sports I can’t remember. In my youth, I pursued scholarship above all else and dropped gym class the first chance I got in high school. He loves watching most flavors of sports on the television. I would rather read a book (so would my mother). He diligently mows the lawn and shovels snow off the walk, each in their appropriate season. The grass would go to seed in the summer and the driveway would become a slush-pit in the winter, I fear, if the mowing and the shoveling were left to me.
Upon further reflection, however, my father and I are more alike than we are different. We would manage quite well sitting in silence together. Although there are those who say otherwise, I am not a great talker. My father detests traveling; he won’t drive any further than across town to see his parents. And just forget about him making the two-hour trip to visit his eldest daughter. Fortunately, I have a husband who is not averse to driving, otherwise we would never go anywhere, either. Like my father, I tend to be a homebody. I could contentedly sit at home for an entire weekend without going anywhere and not feel as if I am missing out on life. In high school, I acted in several plays. Only minor character roles, but I had fun. My father was once in a play, too, but he played a major role. I am told that he was an excellent Charlie Brown. I can imagine it.
Looking back on my childhood, I recall the time I spent with my father. The ice-fishing expeditions in my snowmobile suit, mainly spent exploring the frozen lake or reading books instead of staring at a tip-up. Traipsing through the woods with our beagle, Shambles. Playing “catch” with the burgundy MacGregor baseball mitt and the green-handled aluminum bat I got for one birthday or another. And then there were the softball games at ballparks, where I seldom actually watched him play…yeah. That last example was more like time spent “adjacent” to my father. But I still went. And sometimes watched parts of the game.
Of course, as I grew up we spent less time together. But I knew he still cared about me, in his way. I remember him trying to counsel me through the first boyfriend breakup when I was sixteen. Me, lying in my bed, weeping, and he’s droning on about how so-and-so is nearly a man–the boy in question was nearly two years older than me–and I had to focus on school, etc. He even quoted “Que Sera, Sera” to me. To this day, I don’t know if my mother forced him to try and comfort me or if it was his own idea. Either way, I appreciated the sentiment, if not the manner of delivery.
On this day when we honor our fathers, I have shared a little bit about mine. At times, he was emotionally distant, as I suppose many fathers are with their children, however this never affected me adversely. I knew my father was always there.
Dad, I realize that you will probably never see this post–you don’t much like reading–but know that I appreciate your sacrifices over the years for me and my brothers.
I love you, Dad.