Less is more…

Dad wasn’t around much when we were growing up, yet he managed to have a tremendous influence on me.  Mom was the logistical foundation for my childhood, but had far less influence on the person i am today…

On a typical day, we’d have an hour with him – at most.  Early mornings were chaos.  Six of us in a small, three bedroom house, with one bathroom.  Four children attempting to get ready for school, and every one of us jockeying to get to the toilet before Dad went in for his morning constitutional.

There was no ventilation.  As the youngest?  Guess who often got the short straw.  This is the closest i came to child abuse…

Forty five minutes of that hour was spent at dinner, which was a raucous multi-party shouted conversation, held amidst food being passed, thrown, and snuck under the table to the dog when Mom wasn’t looking.  Dinner was more about words than food*.

That was when he ‘held court’ with us.  Some nights he clearly just wanted to decompress from his work day, but others?  He’d sit down and bait us with a conversation starter – “Is there life after high school?” directed at my elder siblings, or “Why is MAD Magazine** so funny?” directed at the lot of us…

After dinner, he’d wander off to his bedroom with the evening newspaper.  Listening to a ball game, or talk radio, he’d pretty much stay there most nights.  Summer evenings would find him outside, doing yard work, or reading a book in his redwood chair… 

During my junior high years, my sister T and i played softball in a local recreational league.  While Mom handled the carpooling arrangements with the other Moms to get us to the park on time, Dad never missed a game.  Showing up, watching.  Tracking our success and failures on the field.  He’d leave after the games, letting us head off with our friends until it was time for the pick up.  Unobtrusive, but clearly paying attention.

In hindsight, i think it was that “paying attention” part that paid the dividends.  He watched all of us.  Met us where we were developmentally.  Working patiently as my sister, S, learned to play saxophone.  Lending guidance to my brother as he bashed his way through his latest HeathKit electronics project.  Coaching my sister, T, through trigonometry.  Teaching me to use woodworking tools in the garage after i’d sliced a good part of my finger off with a planer…

As he was dying, he retained a deep understanding of where we were developmentally.  The conversations i had with him were completely different than those held with my siblings***.  He was not confused about his purpose in life, and felt he had succeeded.  Rescuing Mom and her two young children from nasty circumstances, he didn’t hesitate to tell me that T and i were ‘bonus’ purpose. 

Musician, philosopher, engineer, teacher… He was truly a renaissance man before his time.  But of all the things he was?  i think he put “Father” at the top of his list.  He was a natural…

It took me a few decades to figure all that out.  The pixels of his life were slow in coming together.  There’s more, and i’m resolved to get it written down.  This blog – for all the faffing about and silliness – is really about him.  He’s the only reason i got out of the trailer park.  And the only reason i keep checking in to look after the residents…

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* Thankful for the words since Mom wasn’t much of a cook.  “Shake and Bake” pork chops with applesauce and corn, Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks with Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and peas were weekly meals.  She burned dinner rolls so badly once, we went in the yard and played baseball with them after dinner.  She was kinda pissed about that, but they were inedible…

** Dad frequented bookstores on the weekends, and once a month brought home the latest MAD Magazine, which we fought over like rabid dogs.   i later found out it was a deliberate attempt to teach us the joy of satire, and train us to put popular media in its proper place…  My ex-husband and i later passed this along to our children, via weekly family time watching The Simpson’s…

***  He told me that i was the only one who would listen as he talked about death.  He was ready for it, they weren’t.