This year marks the third year I will see another Father’s Day come and go without my dad. I wish I could say it gets easier, but so far it hasn’t. If anything, this year has hit me the hardest. I don’t know if I was still kind of numb the past few years or if I just chose not to dwell on it.
My dad was raised in an era where gender boundaries were very clear. Men went off to work and women dealt with household chores. That didn’t stop him from encouraging us to be more than the stereotypical woman he grew up with. The running of the household was a little bit harder for a man who had no experience with cooking and cleaning.
Mom often worked outside the home and Dad did what he could to help out. Let’s just say that his culinary skills were very limited. When my mom was hospitalized for the last several weeks of her pregnancy with my twin sisters, Dad was left with feeding a two-year-old. Hot dogs, eggs and burnt popcorn were our staples. It took me years to actually want to look at another hot dog. Fearing food poisoning he cooked on one temperature. . . high, hence the burnt popcorn. I blame my preferred choice of well-done steak on him.
Dad was blessed with three daughters. Unfortunately, boys were not in the cards for him and Mom. There were times in our lives when it seemed he wasn’t really engaged, but I think it had more to do with the fact that he had no clue how to relate to three little girls who were more interested in dolls and tea parties than airplanes and boats. Our tears over scrapes and cuts weren’t as easily dried with a pat on the back and words to walk it off. I think he was relieved when I hit junior high school and took shop class. It gave us something to talk about that he could actually relate to.
Puberty and hormonal outbursts sent him running for cover on more than one occasion. Anything having to do with body changes was left strictly up to my mom. And feelings were pretty much taboo. I can’t remember a time when either of us felt comfortable discussing feelings. Instead, we kept our conversations during those years to safer topics such as history and politics. Something he enjoyed discussing at great length. Looking back, I feel sorry for my two younger sisters because they had no interest in either of those topics.
Dad’s sense of humor is the one thing that united us all and seems to have been passed down from generation to generation. Whether that’s a blessing or a curse is still to be determined. To this day when my kids hear a lame joke they declare that it is a grandpa joke. My son recently told his friends that when he has grandkids, he’s going to make them watch ‘80’s movies because that’s what he did with his grandpa and he turned out just fine.
Sarcasm with a straight face has been followed by the phrase “I was just kidding” more than once. Some of my fondest memories are the car trips we took. To keep us occupied he would make up the silliest things. Driving through the countryside hay bales became families with silly names like heehees, hahas and hohos. One of his favorite things to do was to wait until we were sound asleep in the back seat and then he would rouse us by calling, “girls, girls wake up. Hurry, hurry. Look, a mail box.”
While Mom’s anger or frustration was expressed verbally, Dad never swore or used colorful language around us. Even in high school and when we became adults, he would temper his language. I remember a time when I was a senior in high school and dad had heard a new joke. He came home and told it to us, changing the swear words to something more acceptable. When he was finished my sisters and I told him that we’d already heard it at school, but a lot cruder than he told us.
Even though Dad lived through a time when gender roles in society dictated young women’s futures he never discouraged us from following our dreams. We were instilled from both of our parents, a belief that we could do anything we wanted to. I don’t ever remember being told that I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. With the attitude we could do anything, we charged into adulthood ready to take on the world. I went off to college and my sisters joined the military. Later when we gave up careers to start our families he stood behind us. No matter what choice we made, he encouraged us and was proud of the women we were becoming.
As the years passed and we became parents ourselves, Dad was there to pass along his parenting wisdom. I think he was secretly relieved when he was blessed with five grandsons. That doesn’t mean he didn’t love his only granddaughter any less, but the boys were a nice change.
The more time that passes it seems the more I miss him. We have him in our memories whenever we need a smile most. I take comfort knowing that he’s watching over us and probably laughing at our antics.
Not everyone is as fortunate as we were to have a father like I did. A wonderful man who mentored and loved us through the good times and the bad, even when he had to suffer through endless reruns of The Brady Bunch. For those of you who are lucky enough to still have your father around give him a big hug and hold on tight. You never know how much time you have left.