I went to the gym this morning not only because of yesterday (Thanksgiving) and all I ate but also because it was "on the schedule." Here in our small town the gym is never really busy and so I settled in on the stationary bike and got after it.
Not long after, an older gentleman made his way to another bike and with a nod and a smile began punching in his numbers and adjusting the seat, etc. Looked like he'd had some hip work done, maybe, as he was concentrating on one side over the other. He was in pretty good shape and I noticed his forearms. They looked like they'd done some work over the years. They looked like my Dad's arms.
There wasn't a thing my Dad couldn't do when it came to swinging a hammer or sawing a board. Electrical, plumbing, you name it. Certain things he didn't like to do, like painting and car repair but he could do that, too. He had a workshop in the basement of our house that was organized to the nth degree - hand tools on pegboard, all the screwdrivers together, all the pliers. Row after row of screws and nails in jelly jars, peanut butter jars, baby food jars. Drawers held files and drill bits, meters and testers.
When he died I inherited many of the tools. I go through them now and again, remembering. I make occasional use of them. Just the other day I needed, of all things, a couple of push pins. I was about to run to the store and instead took a chance on finding some downstairs. In one of Dad's small-drawer collections I pulled out a plastic tray and sure enough, thumbtacks and push pins.
I admired my father. I adored him. Unfortunately, I also feared him. He could be quick to anger. As a small boy I had no understanding of that. It was only as an adult that I began to see it was Dad's drinking, his secret life. Every drinker has one, though some are more secret than others. For my Dad and many others of his generation much of the drinking was social and not so secret. It was understood, however, that returning from a visit to my grandparents - they lived in our small town - Dad and I might stop off at the local tavern and if we did that was our business and something we didn't need to mention to Mom.
Looking back I can see that small boy trying to get noticed. I see him trying his darndest to be like his Dad, to run fast and jump high, to dive off the high board, to hit a baseball, to be a Boy Scout, to play the trumpet, to be a good student...to be liked. But what does it matter how many might have liked him, if not his Dad?
I don't think Dad disliked me, I think it was just harder than he thought it was going to be. It was harder to balance all of those things that go with having a family when the thing you most look forward to every day is a drink at six o'clock. Cocktail hour. Drinks with lunch, a beer or two at noon. My Dad was a strong man but he couldn't lick that. Nobody can.
I tried drinking and even enjoyed it for a while, or thought I did. Back in my late teens and twenties and for probably even longer it greased the social wheels and made sex easier. Or, I thought it did. It didn't. There are, yes, some regrets there. These days I may enjoy an occasional glass of wine but it's nothing I do regularly. Funny, but lots of times it's so much more enjoyable to go somewhere, some gathering and not drink. Sure makes the ride home safer.
There is no answer to missing my father. I have my memories and, in fact, some very good ones. I wish I could speak to him about some of the others.
I'm glad to have his tools.