Father’s Day. Not one of my favourite holidays anymore. As fond as I am of reading my friends’ tributes to their own fathers, husbands, brothers, sons – and truly I am – each tribute is another twist of the stiletto in my heart. My father isn’t here anymore and I miss him dreadfully.
I tried writing this last year as a way to introduce a friend of mine to my father. I didn’t know how to tell her all the wonderful things he was. He was the mischievous boy who dropped cherry bombs in the toilets at school and who sawed part of the way through the legs of a neigbour’s outhouse. He was the basketball player who led his small island high school to the State championship in 1957. He was the pond hockey player who broke his arm whilst “cracking the whip” (and, no, he wasn’t on the end) and walked past the doctor’s office on his way home to tell his mother he had broken his arm. He was the lad who kept his motorcycle a secret from his parents. Until he broke his leg trying to kick start it one day.
My dad taught me how to fish when I was about eight. We went out into the harbor in my grandmother’s little skiff. It was late evening and the wind was blowing up for a bit of a squall. We were out near the sardine cannery, where the mackerel liked to hang out, hoping for scraps. I think we pulled in almost two dozen mackerel that night and who was the mackerel master? Me. With a fish between 18 and 24 inches (Daddy didn’t have a tape measure) that I landed all by myself. Daddy was so proud.
A year later, Daddy taught me how to read music. He sat with me for many a night teaching me what the blobs and squiggles on the page meant, singing the melody lines to me and pointing them out on the page. I remember listening to him sing along to his Johnny Cash records and thinking he was the greatest singer in the world, his rich baritone not quite capable of finding the depths of The Man in Black’s bass. Honestly, his voice was so much better suited to George Jones. At Daddy’s memorial service, I almost put “He Stopped Loving Her Today” on the playlist I put together to honour him. I still can’t listen to it.
I still don’t know what to tell anyone about my Dad. How do you distill such a remarkable mans’ life down to 500 or 1000 words? You can’t. So I’ll tell you the three things I loved the best about my Dad, in no particular order.
My Dad loved who he loved without apology or reservation. The people who were in his life, who remained in his life, were there because he wanted them there. He got along so well with my Mum’s family, even inviting her parents to spend some time in Maine when we went to visit my Grandma Robinson.when I was in 8th grade. They did and Grandma Robinson and my Mum’s parents remained firm friends until Grandma Robinson passed my senior year in high school The most unlikely of family friends, living and loving in the suburbs of Los Angeles (Who would have though an Island boy from the coast of Maine would count a suburban Angeleno among his closest friends?), my Mum’s cousin and his family, and even my own best friend. He loved her like a second daughter and counted her children as his own kin. I only hope that I can love that sincerely and with that open of a heart.
My Dad absolutely adored children. He was 6’ 2” and at his lightest was still around 230 pounds. A broad-shouldered, big-boned man he was reduced to mush by a baby’s giggle. I still remember watching him with my cousin’s daughter, she couldn’t have been more than maybe two or three, eating chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream cones together. In their personal lexicon they called them “roundy rounds” and it was a regular treat as long as she came to visit. She called him “Brum” – we have no idea where that came from, but “Brum” he remained. When a friend’s daughter found out that he wore a “bunny suit” when he performed some of his job functions, but that it didn’t have a tail, she made him one and he attached it to his suit and wore it. It didn’t embarrass him in the slightest. He would have made such an awesome Grandpa. I wish I could have made that come true for him.
My Dad never forgot how to be a little boy. He never lost the thrill seeing a train go by, hearing the whistle blow. Today, every time I hear a train whistle blow, I smile and think, “There goes Daddy.” The image below is probably the last photo I have of my Dad. It was taken before the stroke in his leg that nearly killed him. Before the tumour on his pituitary gland that threatened his eyesight before the tumour was detected and removed. Before the rheumatoid arthritis that racked his body with such incredible pain it could only be managed by a potent cocktail of steroids and anti-inflammatory meds.
It didn’t take a lot to make my Dad happy. Mum. Me. Someplace comfortable to live. His books. His computer. His motorcycle – he loved to go “chugga-puttin’”. His friends. The family that he adopted as his own. That was pretty much it. He didn’t have a driving need to be wealthy or have the biggest and best of everything. He wanted that for me, but he never wanted it for himself. He was a simple man at his heart, an island boy to the day he died. And he raised me to be just like him.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. I can only wish I turn out to be even a quarter of the person you were. I will miss you forever and love you much longer than that.