People have told me I take after my father. Like most, I rush to agree with the favorable attributes but upon reflection, I share his less than desirable qualities as well. For example, my father was on academic probation during his college days at Fort Hays State but was granted the additional moral probation for throwing an epic party for a football game… in a hotel room… with girls. (It was the late 50s after all) His first wife, my mother, told us they met during a Homecoming parade. She was stuck on a float dressed like an angel and he was the drunk guy yelling at her from the street, “Hey, look at the angel! The preddy, preddy angel!” Those who attended college with me, okay those who know me, would say the apple rolled down the side of the tree and stopped at the root.
I think his joi de vivre stemmed from having nothing to lose. My grandmother, a school teacher, had him late in an impoverished life. They lived in rural Western Kansas and moved from boarding room to boarding room, even living in a school house at one point: dad slept in the wood box and she on a bench. In order to go to college, he worked and played on three sports teams for the scholarships. There was no money for on-campus housing so a coach let him sleep on a cot in the upper deck of the field house. Eventually he had to enlist in the Army. One of my favorite stories is his attempt upon return to join a fraternity. The president of the house told him, “Kneel down and shine my shoes.” My father kneeled down then used the momentum to jump punch him in the face.
Obviously, my father didn’t tolerate unearned entitlement, something I also share (seriously Sean Combs, a 360k car for your 16 yr old?). He had two schools of thought: “nip it in the bud” and “give ‘em enough rope to hang themselves”.
An example of the latter:
While teaching a high school history lesson one day, a student proceeded to eat sunflower seeds and spit the shells on the floor, all the while staring at my father for a reaction. Five minutes before class ended, my dad slowly walked over to the kid’s desk and asked him to pick up the shells. “How’m I gonna do that?” he asked. “Exactly how you put ‘em there, with your tongue,” dad responded. He then brought the trash can over to the boy and stood over him, watching until every shell was licked up and spit out in the proper place.
An example of the former:
No student was ever sent to the principal’s office. He preferred “private chats” in the hallway.
As he aged, my father became a dormant volcano, awesome yet terrifying. I honestly don’t remember any spankings that he gave me, but I am still in fear of getting one and he has been dead five years. That’s power. My mom drew on that power. If she couldn’t get the desired response from us, she just had to whisper his name. I try to project that power on my husband but he’s as consistent as Phil Dunphy from Modern Family. He needs to work on the “impending doom walk” but his “What’s the problem!?” is coming along nicely.
When I told my father I was going to marry him, he said, “He’s a little young, but I’m sure you’ll have fun.” He was right. He might not be the most mature man on the planet but we have had a helluvalot more fun than my family did growing up and we are only five years in. That is because my kids have a Dad and my sister and I had a Father. I didn’t realize there was a difference until my father explained this to me on his death bed. “I wasn’t a good dad,” he said, “I was a good father, but I wasn’t a dad to you.” Somewhere along his life the party boy, redneck, beer bootlegger was overtaken by an academic businessman who only cut loose with a few close friends. That carried over into his parenting. When we were in high school, he didn’t want to hear about boys or gossip, “How are your grades? Talk to your mother.” When we got to college, “Are you going to class? Talk to your mother.” When we left home, “Do you have money? Talk to your mother.” He would have been surprised to know that like him in college, I was more social than studious, more saavy than skilled and more sloshed than sober. But then that would have made me his kid, not his daughter.
So instead of honoring my Father on Father’s Day, I am going to honor the Dad he wanted to be. The guy who would rather be watching A Man Called Horse, drinking Coors beer and eating sunflower seeds off his stomach. The guy who used to ask me to pop his toes or walk on his back. The guy who smoked since he was 12 and fished since he was 5. The guy who spent summers sitting on a combine somewhere between Kansas and Texas and the guy who liked to watch tornados from his roof. And I’m going to pledge be exactly like him.