My father was the first to show me what it meant to be fully human, fully vulnerable, in spite of being the Jitterbug King.
He never pretended to be perfect.
Make no mistake, he was pretty darned good. Most girls, especially oldest, especially "daddy's girls," take their father for better or worse as the form on which they'll fashion their fantasy prince. Mine was smart and funny and strong, smart in ways that defy degrees, figuring out mathematical formulae while laboring in the oil fields, nothing but a high school diploma and barely that since he and some other friends had defied orders and attended a basketball tournament.
I always imagined he was something of an Arthur Fonzarelli in high school, an oddly placed James Dean only quieter maybe, cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve of a t-shirt, slicked pompadour, an antihero, cool, contemplative, then the marine, all coloring within the lines, up at dawn, Marine Hymn blaring, the few, the proud, cover your heart when the flag comes past, run into the ocean at Oceanside.
The man I knew came home from the oil fields soaked in grime, scrubbed up in Lava soap and settled into a chair, reading front to back The Salt Lake Tribune delivered daily from four hours away, no cable news then, no instant source, headlines to business to classified ads, commenting all the while on the latest political controversy or business misadventure, how Cashmere Bouquet was on sale this weekend worth making the trip to the city. When he wasn't checking wells he was holed up in an office two houses away, a dusty man-cave lined with pinups and punctuated by slide rules and log books and the smell of mimeograph machines.
He never pretended to be perfect. It was easy to see from a young age he was multi-dimensional, full of life and the consequences of living it, Pa on Little House, Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H, all rolled up in a James Garner body.
By junior high it occurred to me he had a Sunday voice, a way of speaking in church on the weekend that wasn't exactly the same voice he had the rest of the week, or the same vocabulary, but both were the same person, neither disavowing the other. He could swear at referees with the best of them; he could show you God on a mountainside.
I saw him cry out to the heavens when we stumbled onto a wounded pregnant doe in the wilderness west of us, and I never forgot it. Real men--even big men, tough men, athletic men, strong men--cried, and cried for the right reasons, never for himself.
Those long rides in the pick-up truck in high school were filled with street wisdom: don't smoke because it's stupid and expensive, young sex is filled with emotional consequences, and not just physical ones, figure out who you are.
I knew already then that marriages were complicated and never what they appear to others on the outside, that lives were difficult and messy and that there were interior places to which people retreated, beyond the man-caves, beyond the mountains, that few understood.
Soon after, I saw him face certain death.
That time was filled with both courage and fear, fear of the unknown in spite of hope and faith that came from a deep well, courage hammered in a boot camp in California, stand up big and tall, remember who you are, never surrender. Years later I married another man, fully human, fully flawed, who cried for all the right reasons and stood tall, forged in the battlefields of World War II, because of the measure of a man first found in my father, a man fully human aspiring to the divine.
I take with me above all, the smartest, most certain, most human words my father ever gifted me in his fully flawed, fully wonderful life:
"When in doubt, punt."
My father, probably Christmas 1966, with clockwise from top, my brother Paul, my sister Linda, me, and my sister Diane.