For Father's Day...random thoughts about dear ol' Dad...
The Great Dad
My best memories of childhood are of time spent on the golf course with my brother and my Dad. He always let us know that he loved us, cheered us on in sports, put a roof over our heads, kept us fed and encouraged us to work hard and get ahead (oh well, so much for that one). That's what dads are supposed to do, and he did it.
The Least introspective person I’ve ever known
He once made an off-hand comment, speculating as to why one of my half sisters (his step daughter) didn't' like him. That was the most introspective thing I ever heard him say. I'm guessing he did some soul searching, but he sure didn't talk about it.
Patron Saint of the Down and Out
He’d buy a bum a cup of coffee, or give them a lift somewhere. He had a sad sack of a friend named “Oly” who lived in one of those broken down hotel rooms you see in movies. He’d take us to visit Oly occasionally and I remember him giving Oly our old TV.
On Christmas Day, he’d often take my brother and I with him to visit the widow of a friend of his, who likewise was old and lived alone and whose kids never visited her.
Once he brought home an old guy that he spotted wandering the streets in downtown Seattle. As it turned out, the old guy had Alzheimer’s (although they didn't call it that yet), and had climbed on a bus in Tacoma and didn't know where the heck he was, or even WHO he was. Boy was his family happy when we called!
The Compulsive Gambler
God only knows how much money he lost over the years at the race track. Growing up, the problem was mostly hidden from me but it took a big toll on my parents’ marriage and my Mom wouldn’t be depending on social security today if he’d invested his money instead of lost it at the track.
He’d take my brother and me to the bowling alley with him on league night and pay us a nickel each every time he got a spare, and a dime for strikes. Each time he’d get a strike he’d holler out “SOL-ID” loud enough for everyone in the place to hear him. He always had a smile on his face there, and if a movie is ever made of his life it'll be calle "A Bowling Alley runs through it".
The clues were there but it never occurred to me that he was actually SCARED to be alone in the house. I found out later that once my brother and I left for college, if my mom there when he came home from work, he’d just drive around until she got home, before going in the house.
He feared death.
He died when my Mom was out of town for a week, and my sister told me that when she went into the house she discovered that he had set little booby-traps all around the house and had the fireplace poker beside the bed.
Teller of Cheesy Jokes
What time do the Chinese go to the dentist? 2:30, get it (tooth-hurty). Oye! He had dozens of them and he’d retell them over and over throughout my entire life. It’s what my best childhood friend remembers the most about him.
The Guy who kept his Emotions Bottled up
His first wife died of cancer after a years long battle, and my half-sister from that marriage told me that when he came home from the hospital on that day he simply said, “Your mother died today” and then never spoke of it again until twenty-some odd years later when he casually mentioned to her that he had finally paid off the medical bills.
Ice Cream Lover
One of his favorite things to do was to pile us in the car and take us to Baskin & Robbins. He’d ALWAYS get Pralines and Cream. (I take my kids there just as often, and to this day I've NEVER tried Pralines and Cream, but I think I will on Sunday).
He was drafted into the Canadian army during WWII but never deployed to Europe because of a sustained, stomach malaise that I’m sure was psychosomatic. His brother went to war, was in the Battle of the Bulge and was disabled for life as a result of it.
Teller of Tall Tales
I'm sure growing up in Saskatchewan during the depression was no picnic, but he was the proverbial guy who walked 10 miles to school in the snow – uphill both ways. His parents made him ride in the rumble seat (before they lost the car), even during freezing weather, and when one of his brothers did something wrong they beat him instead because it made his brothers cry. He graduated from High School two years early because he was so smart, but unfortunately back then they didn’t let 16-year-olds go to college. Don't get me started on the retelling of his exploits on the golf course.
We were barely middle class, but something in his psyche required him to pretend to be more. He’d buy old Cadillacs so that he could drop it into casual conversations that he drove a Caddy. He’d make sure people knew he lived in a fancy neighborhood, even though we lived in the distinctively middle-class part of it. He’d pretend that we had money, but would often have to borrow money that my brother and I had earned on our paper routes. I think the depression messed with his mind.
He brought home a stray, pregnant, lab mix of a dog that was skulking around where he worked. We named her Blackie and she became our beloved pet for 15 years.
He genuinely seemed to like everyone, except his boss whose name he could not say without calling him an ignoramus.
The Not-So-Great Husband
While he was a great dad, I suspect he was less of a husband. My parents cooperated and made it work, but their marriage was old-school; more of a partnership than a romance. The gambling didn’t help things I’m sure.
How many non-religious guys do you know who grew up during an era where everyone smoked and drank and lived their lives in race tracks and bowling alleys and STILL completely abstained from tobacco and alcohol...for no apparent reason? Go figure.
In his mind, the best use for any unspoiled plot of land was to erect a golf course on it. I never heard him appreciate a sunrise or a sunset, lake or flower. And fittingly enough, it’s been twenty-one year since he died and grass STILL doesn’t grow on his grave (iterally, you can still see the exact outline of the hole they dug, because the grass on that little rectangle is so anemic)!
The Lover of Life
Ultimately, this is how I remember him. Like any life, his was a mixed bag. He had his triumphs and he suffered. But through it all he retained his good humor and joking personality and is remembered warmly by most who knew him. And in the end I’m not sure that any of us can ask more than that out of life.
So, here's wishing "Verne" a Happy Father's Day and hoping that they have bowling alleys and golf courses wherever he's at.