In May, 2000, I lost my father after a sudden heart attack. He was 71. He was a classic tough guy. A John Wayne type man who took no shit from anybody but had a great sense of humor. He was insensitive and tough on his kids but he loved them and worked his ass off for all of us. As little kids, when we would fall down and scrape a knee or something, my Dad would always yell at us, "Come here and I'll help you up"! Life is a complex mix of differences, isn't it? Many times my father said very hurtful things to me and let me know in no uncertain terms that I was either a blithering idiot or a sissy of the first magnitude. I also know he did these things to all of us kids, so it wasn't just me. A simple, disgusted look was enough to make me feel about as insignificant as a dog turd.
Conversely, he was a good father to us all, treating his step-children as his own and helping us all through any problems we may have come across. I remember him working on one of my cars after a breakdown one Winter, when I couldn't believe he could continue to use his hands, since mine were frozen solid! He forged ahead and got 'er done! Perseverance and strength were probably his best attributes.
I tried to emulate him as much as possible growing up and, when my children came along, in raising my own. That was probably a mistake. I was never as tough as he nor as persistent. On the other hand, I tell my kids how much I love them more in one week than I heard from my father in my lifetime. Our relationship was just that way.
As he aged and dealt with grandchildren and retirement, he mellowed considerably. Like a big Winter Warmer, he lost much of the sharp edges and heat and what was left was sweet, complex and satisfying. He was a doting grandfather to my sister's kids, who lived with him, for the most part, and was always well-loved by my two boys. Just before he died, I went down to "the hills" to visit him and tried to convince him to go to the doctor, since I had been told he was having heart troubles but was too stubborn to do anything about it. I took my two sons with me and we had a nice visit. He assured me he would go to the doctor and get checked out. We left believing everything would be fine that April weekend. On May 18, he died suddenly in his sleep.
I learned a lot from my father and I think I miss him more now than ever before. Even though one thinks normally that a son benefits most from a father in his formative years, I believe I would appreciate my father's guidance now, at 53 years of age, than perhaps ever before. I've had many expectations during this journey and almost none of them have turned out as scripted. Is that a problem? I'd guess my Dad would say that it isn't. You deal with things as they come at you because the script is always under re-write.
In June of that year, my lovely wife got me a Father's Day gift. I know it was from the boys but she is the person who picked it out and bought it for me. My sons were a part of the process, to be sure, but the idea and effort came from my wife. It was a beer brewing kit. I had admired the idea after a friend had gotten one. He made a couple of batches and dropped it like a hot rock. I, on the other hand, found the new hobby to be fascinating and very rewarding. I brewed a simple pale ale which came out pretty darned good, and the rest is history.
Along the years, my kids learned to indulge Daddy's hobby interests. They both learned to siphon and bottle beer (whereas, my Dad taught me to siphon gasoline!) and to taste and determine what a good beer is and why. This may not be something that wins me the Responsible Father of the Year Award but you take it as it comes, right? My kids were drinking and enjoying-responsibly-fine craft brews before they were teenagers. At 25 and 23 neither drinks more than a beer a month. They aren't all that fond of the stuff!
We script our lives for success (what the hell is that?), wealth (again, what?), the cars and homes we dream of and all that jazz, but it is health, love, relationships and memories that truly make us happy and satisfied. I could die penniless and homeless and be a happy fellow, simply because my life has been interesting, varied, and full of loving and happy family and friends.
My kids have their entire lives ahead of them. They have made plenty of mistakes and probably will make plenty more but they WILL learn from them. Well, my kids could probably benefit from some of my Dad's tough love. When they fail at something it hurts and I feel for them as much as for myself. I want the best for them in life. Isn't that what every father wants? I may have spoiled 'em a bit but they turned out to be good people and that is what really counts, isn't it? I think my father would agree. Priorities shift and success keeps morphing.
Lately I've been thinking I've fallen down and can't really find my footing. Then, in the back of my mind I hear, "Come here and I'll help you up"! I see my Dad with that shit-eating grin on his face and I know that all is right with the world.