Monday, June 17, 2013
(Originally meant to be posted for Father's Day but better late than never...)
Even though I was only five years old when my father passed away, I still have fond memories of him. He was a hard-working, tall, slim man, with piercing brown eyes and jet black hair that stood out from his weathered face, along with a smile or scowl that made you stop and take in deep thoughtful breaths. My mother absolutely worshiped the ground he walked on. But knowing my mother, as he did VERY well, it was no surprise to him when she brought me home one day, adding me to the brood that was already there, an "adoptive" addition to an already colorful family. I was treated no differently than anyone else. In fact, I may have been more spoiled than the rest now that I take the time to reflect on matters.
I remember clearly the day I thought it would "fun" to hide from them, "testing" their attention span for me and I climbed beneath the old '57 Chevy that had sat dormant for years in the side yard. I was prepared to wait for hours until they realized I had gone "missing." But it was perhaps only a good fifteen minutes before I heard Mom calling for me. Giggling to my three-year-old self, I grabbed the cat and made him lie beside me, as I witnessed her sneakered feet walking around the yard. It wasn't long before I saw the feet of my three brothers and two sisters joining her and their voices reaching an almost chaotic crescendo. Crawling a little closer to the edge from beneath the car I wondered where Daddy was...
I found out a couple of seconds later as I felt a firm grip around both of my ankles and felt myself being dragged out. Wrapping his fingers around the back of the waistband of my pants, he picked me up promptly and plopped me down before him, serious-looking, and shaking his head.
"Whatcha doin' there?"
"Daddy, did you miss me??"
"Yes, I did. What do you think your mother is going to do when she finds out you've been hiding from us?"
"I dunno! Laugh??"
"Am I laughing?"
Looking down and feeling suddenly and strangely ashamed, I shook my head no.
"What if a snake crawled under there with you?"
Shaking my head again, I slowly looked up at him.
"I'm sorry, Daddy. I won't do it again."
Dad had that way about him. He didn't have to raise his voice or punish you. Just knowing you disappointed him was enough to make you not want to do the offending behavior again.
When he passed away a few years later, being the youngest, I could not understand. I can remember Mom and my sisters telling me that he had went to live with Jesus. For awhile, in all honesty, I didn't like Jesus because Dad had "chosen" to live with him instead of us. (It's funny how, when you're young, you don't understand the concept of dying but perhaps in some ways, it's a good thing.) And when I found out all the cool things Heaven had to offer, I couldn't stay mad for long. I was able to bounce back alot faster than my mother and siblings. I missed him terribly but they told me I would see him again someday and that was enough for me. I was able to move on quite rapidly.
My three oldest brothers soon took on the "fathering" role. It wasn't long before I was being tossed in the back of race cars, motorcycles, and their shoulders for hikes in the woods. I was also used as a bartering tool, a test dummy and the first to be made to go into strange caves on our property. I didn't mind. The rewards for doing such things were awesome, like candy bars, teddy bears from the carnival and late night "escapes" from the house to roast marshmallows and dips in the pond. As I continued to grow, as they grew, I had help with homework, allies when I got caught doing something I wasn't supposed to and someone to chase off all those "nasty" boys who kept coming to the house to see me. I still remember one guy in particular from high school that my oldest brother Bob HATED. One day Edgar just stopped talking to me. I was crushed. But years later I found out that Edgar did not want to end up in the strange locked box next to the gun collection in the back of Bob's RV.
We all became adults. We all had families of our own. When I met Brian he was already a single father to eight-year-old Bobby and seven-year-old Brook. I found his parenting style strict and confining. Try as hard as I might, I could not break it. I suddenly found myself "sneaking" behind his punishments and doing things to make the kids feel better, lessening the sting of them being grounded by taking them out for a movie or ice cream. I quickly became the "cool" stepmom!
In all honesty, I didn't think Brian was mean, just clueless. My assumptions were right on, when years later, I was sick and he had to take Breanna to get a new pair of snow boots. She was twelve. He allowed her to pick out her own and she came home ecstatic with four-inch leather stilettos with fur around the top. Emphatically shaking my head from side-to-side and telling them it was NOT HAPPENING, I gave them both strict instructions on the style they were to get after they were exchanged. Another hour later I heard the front door slam as they arrived home and Breanna's bedroom door slam even harder. Rushing to the living room I found combat-style steel-toed work boots lying in the floor and Brian looking very confused. A few days later I was well enough to take her myself but I think to this day she's still mad about those stilettos!
Over the years I witnessed Brian struggling with "Breanna Boyfriend Woes" as well. Amidst her sobbing and gushing out her undying love for Jason, he would stand, shuffling from one foot to the other. Every now and then he would pat her on the head. Suddenly he would say something like, "Boys are like taxi cabs. When one passes you up, just thumb down the next one." Or, "Maybe you were meant to be a nun." Her crying would grow even louder and I would have to rush in to "repair the damage." It was different with the boys. He would hand them the keys to four-wheelers and dirt bikes and tell them to get lost. Or throw chain saws and axes in their hands to assist him in clearing the brush. Which would have been fine if they were older than nine or ten.
I worried. As the kids were growing up, I constantly fretted about the "mixed" messages they were receiving from their parents. He was strict, yes, but a little too "careless" for my liking. I was the soft place to land, teaching, guiding and striving to be the ideal parent. I was always the one to lessen the severity of his lectures, the sternness in his voice when he found out they broke the rules.
It wasn't long ago that I learned he KNEW I was "going behind his back." I asked him why he never said anything and he said, "Because kids need that. They need one strong hand to guide. Another to hold it. I chose to guide. You chose to hold. Nothing wrong with that." Just as I was feeling the warmness spreading throughout my body he said, "Besides, someone had to keep the bunch tame. If it were up to you, you'd let them run around like jungle people. Weedahad a group of savages on our hands."
Hmph. Well. Whatever.
Amazingly, all of our kids turned out quite well. Bobby works at GE Aeronautics after a stint in the Air Force, raising three beautiful girls of his own. Brook is an LPN now with a gorgeous son. Paul, the rebel child, is a father to a boy and girl, with one on the way, general manager of a restaurant with the possibility of owning his own franchise. And Breanna...my beautiful amazing girl, is in her final year of Ohio University, receiving repeated recognition on the Dean's List with a scholarship for her senior year. I'd like to say that it was because of me...but I can't. I can't take full responsibility. I didn't raise these kids well...WE raised these kids well.
By the way, if you're wondering what happened to me when Mom found out I was hiding from them all that day, I got my rear-end thumped. Mom was no-nonsense. Followed by incredible amounts of tenderness and explanations of why I could not do that to her. Subsequently followed by "I hope you have ten kids just like YOU one day." It wasn't until Breanna hid from ME when SHE was small that I fully understood what she meant...and felt.
For all the fathers in my life, I truly miss you (Dad and brother Steve) and adore you. You are all heros in your own right, in your own way. I am blessed for having so many of you, shaping me, molding me, teaching me. (And in the case of Brian, confusing me and challenging my pre-determined notions.)
And Daddy? You are not nor will you ever be forgotten. I can't wait to see you again one day. I truly do love Jesus now and cannot be mad at Him for taking you Home. I know Mom is watching you like a hawk anyways and won't let you out of her sight!
God bless you all. Hold all the dads in your life closely to you...each and every day.