Gratitude Sunday: Lessons From Dad

Gratitude * Sunday

Quote of the Week – “I was born by myself, but carry the spirit and blood of my father, mother, and ancestors. So I am never really alone.” Ziggy Marley

Sunday Haiku
Weather shifts hot, cool,
from day to night, dark to light,
summer comes along.

Sunday Musings
Happy Father’s Day. Another contrived constructed consumer holiday. Fathers (and mothers) should be honored every day for all the work they do for us. As with all people there are good dads, bad dads, and every shade of dad in between. So many of us have difficult relationships with out dads; it’s not necessarily about how good you are at the job of dadding, sometimes it’s about being there. I know one thing about my dad: he loved his kids and he did the best he knew how. I don’t have my dad here anymore, but I can celebrate my memories of him.

I grew up in the time where one adult’s salary enabled the other adult to stay at home with the children, making and taking care of the home, preparing meals from scratch, and enough money for a short summer vacation if they managed the money well. In my neighborhood mostly moms stayed home while the dads worked. As part of the lower middle class, we didn’t live high, but we went out to a restaurant meal once in a while (like special birthdays) and our vacations consisted of camping, except for the one year the whole family saved all year long to go to Disneyland when I was 16. We had homemade hand tailored clothing and fresh vegetables grown in our own garden. We always had food to eat and we knew money was tight but were not made aware of any financial distress our parents were experiencing, different from today when 50 percent of American population is food and housing insecure and many kids cannot escape the fact of living in the family car.

As much as we struggled with family dynamics then with our limited finances, my dad was there. Though my memories are a mixed bag I learned many things from my dad. Some were important lessons, some not so much. The weird thing is in my little brain most of what I learned from him took place when I was 5. It must have been a big year.

Between our house and the garage was two cement steps down to the garage level. At the age of 5 I sat on those steps one day determined to learn how to tie my shoelaces. Dad coached me until I accomplished the task. Many years later when I expressed this memory to siblings they wanted to see how I tied my laces insisting dad did it backward. I didn’t know from backward. I tied them how he taught me. They laughed at me saying I tie them backward like he did. Shoelaces will forever define the bond with my dad.

Dad taught me to fish, and sometime that same year I caught my first trout. Dad didn’t let me rig my own bait, which was fine with me; as much as I liked worms sticking them through a hook didn’t seem the kindest thing to do to them. I realize now his reason was subversive so he could catch the bigger fish. His mom often went fishing with us and always out-fished her son. He claimed it was her woman smell; she insisted on rigging her own bait. Dad taught me to clean fish as well until he learned if I cleaned them I couldn’t eat them. To this day if I clean fish I can’t eat them, but if you bring me cleaned fish I’ll cook them up for you and help you eat them too.

That same year I stepped on a nail that went through my foot and in another incident cut the fingers of my left hand on a broken window. Both times it was dad rather than mom who took me to the doctor. I wonder now if it was because he was in control of the money and would have to pay the doctors at the time of service, but I remember mom didn’t drive until I was 12 years old. Mom likely stayed home with the other three siblings while he had the task of getting me to the doctor. I don’t wonder about the comfort and strength he provided me with his stoic face hiding his certain panic that his little girl was hurt.

Then there was the time I picked all the green tomatoes and got my first “real” spanking. I thought I was helping bring in the harvest, but I had decimated the summer’s bounty. After that I understood I only picked veggies or fruit when the parents said, not under my own guidance as I did not yet know their ripening cycles.

And the time my sister and I peeled off all the lovely papery bark from his beloved three stump birch; those loose edges of thin bark just begged little girl fingers to be pulled and peeled. For some reason he loved that tree, saying it was an unusual and expensive tree, at least until many years later when he decided it was in the way and dispatched it without another thought as to whether we loved the tree. We were both spanked for that one. He thought we had peeled off enough bark to kill the tree so we got a painful lesson about being kind to trees. He did battle with tent caterpillars in that tree every year until he decided to cut it down.

I had a tricycle I loved. We had a nice flat driveway and it was just the right size for a small girl to ride in circles being careful, of course, to not bump the car and not ride out into the road. The driveway was right next to Dad’s garden and one day he handed me a jar of dirt with some worms in it telling me if I took care of them I could sell them to his fishing buddies. Then he wanted to add a slug to the jar and in my little mind slugs and worms did not belong together. I freaked, probably screamed, dropped the jar, scared us both, made a mess of shattered glass, and sacrificed a whole mess of worms and one slug to glass shrapnel rendering them useless for fishing, all entirely too close to the expensive tires on his car. His mistake was the glass jar; if the container had been plastic or wood the crisis would have been avoided even if dropped. I don’t remember being punished for this but it was a disturbing introduction to my future short-lived business as worm salesperson to his fishing buddies. Worms went for a penny each. No negotiations. Until one of his pals offered me what he had in his pocket for a dozen worms and I said OK. He laughed and pulled out a nickel and boy did I feel ripped off. I knew just enough about money to know that wasn’t right or fair. Never again did I fall for that one. From an adult point of view and knowing how people are, I’m grateful it was a nickel he pulled out of his pocket, and not some other sort of pflufferdoodle. Dad would not have tolerated any such violation nonsense toward his children.

So much for the lessons of my fifth year. As I grew older, he taught me to shoot, but not to hunt. He may have surmised from my inability to clean a fish that killing animals was not within my range of capabilities. As it was, the necessary torture of cleaning guns after use put a damper on my enthusiasm for shooting. Guns must be cleaned after each and every use or they may fail to work properly the next time you use them; Dad was methodical about taking care of his stuff; he had a place for everything and everything was in its place (our rooms used to drive him nuts so he’d close our doors to not look at the mess). I hated the smell of the metal cleaner you had to use, and I have a reaction to this day. So when I was able to out-shoot him with both my right and left hand he considered his job done. I had learned a healthy respect for guns and their care, and knew I didn’t want to use them in my everyday life. While I haven’t been to shooting practice for years, I like to think I’m still a good shot, and hoping I never need to use those skills.

Dad taught me to drive. Bless his heart, with the family station wagon, not his precious 1967 Mustang. Mom tried, but Dad had more patience with me. After I got my license at age 17, I still never got to drive the Mustang (was it a stick shift?), and it wasn’t long after he traded it in for a pick-up truck. The pickup was an automatic, but he was still stingy with it. If I wanted to borrow a car for a trip to the library, a football game, or a night with girlfriends, it was only ever the station wagon I got to use.

Dad taught me some tough lessons as well, like the time he caught me smoking cigarettes and made me smoke one after another until I was quite ill. Or the time he thought I slammed the door, and he made me close the door quietly, repeatedly, for so long I fainted (it was a hot day, the door was outside from house to outdoors, and he didn’t let me have a drink of water or food while I was having to open and close the door), and then he accused me of faking the pass-out to get out of the punishment.

Then there were the mixed messages. He wanted me to date like other young women my age, but my first boyfriend was Japanese-American (didn’t matter that this boyfriend’s dad was a professor at a private university), and after soldiering in The Philippines against the Japanese he came home thinking of other races as the enemy. My second boyfriend was 100 percent Cuban (this boyfriend’s father had gotten his family out of Cuba just before Castro took power and closed the exodus from his country). Dad was afraid of having little colored babies (he said it just like that) when I maintained you can’t help whom you love and skin pigmentation had nothing to do with anything. My third boyfriend was poor white trash, but that was OK with Dad because that was more like us than the others.

Or the time my girlfriend and I inhaled some cannabis with her uncle (who was a year older than us), and the uncle got mad at her for some reason and reported to her mother (his older sister) what we’d been up to, never admitting his complicity, of course. Her parents called mine and trouble hit the fan. By that time Dad was a county deputy sheriff and he couldn’t risk his reputation as an officer on the chance his kid might be caught. I was pretty mouthy by that age and questioned him about the difference between cannabis use and drinking every day (he made his own wine and ale, pretty good stuff too). I’d already experienced the debilitating drunk-buzz and the cannabis-buzz seemed much less compromising. Dad ended the conversation with a statement about illegality under federal law, it being his home and while I lived under his roof I would respect his wishes and position as an officer of the law and not imbibe, along with the administration of a one month grounding. He didn’t teach me to question authority (Mom was the one who encouraged me to do my own research and think critically for myself), but my failure to obey him never failed to dismay him. Truth is my dad was a functional benign alcoholic, that is, he worked to provide the means of support for his family but he drank every night to dissociate from us as well, and he was not abusive or intentionally mean. He was a sensitive man and I think he was overwhelmed by all of us, especially when we expressed our own opinions.

As a young woman with my first good steady job, I went to him asking his advice on buying a home. I figured I’d always need a home, had found a cute little bungalow just right for a single person who might marry in the future, and I thought it would be a good investment with my money. He kiboshed all thoughts of home ownership for me as he thought I should be well and permanently married before buying a home with my (future, non-existent) husband. I didn’t buy the house and years later when I told my mom, who had been the accountant in the family, she said she wished I’d talked to her as well. Who knows how well that would have turned out, but hindsight, you know.

While I always knew my dad loved me, I felt he didn’t approve of me much. He found it difficult to deal with my changing body and at nearly every meal expressed his concern about me getting fat (right there is the best way to create an eating disorder if there ever was one). I think he was afraid of my blossoming womanhood as when I started developing curves he developed a hands-off attitude and getting a hug or affection was like pulling teeth.

He never cared much for the man I married, but he liked getting invited to our home so he could go shooting or fishing with us. And when I became pregnant at the age of 38 he bought a used dresser and refurbished it, painting it white and blue, so I’d have something for the baby’s things, then delivered it to my home. And when I graduated magna cum laude from a private university at the age of 44 he cried at my graduation. I know he was proud even if his words were few.

When I was young I never considered that Dad had a full life before I arrived. He’d graduated high school, served in a war, graduated college, and married a woman he loved. When I was a young adult his life didn’t cross my mind much as I was so busy running my own struggling life. When I was old enough to be curious he was hobbled by the aphasia caused by his stroke. I missed the boat at many ports on that one as I go through boxes of his things and try to envision his past.

I got to share one thing with my dad I’ve never shared with anybody else. I was at his side holding his hand at the moment of his death. We don’t do that much in American society, and I’ll tell you, even though it is hard, it’s a sacred moment every person should experience. I told him how much I loved him, and he didn’t have to worry about me, as I could take care of myself. I told him he didn’t have to stay here in this life he had struggled with these last few years, having had surgery for an aortic aneurism, then a stroke, then a fall out of bed resulting in a broken femur, and surgery to fix the broken bone, and then pneumonia. Through his labored breathing I told him he had people waiting for him when he left, his mom and dad and brother and sister and grandparents, all of whom he hadn’t seen in a long time. I kissed him and petted his arm and wiped his face with a warm cloth and let him know it was OK to leave this world and he took his last breath.

With all that, I sit here missing him nearly every day. I like to think, had he been here longer, our relationship would have grown and developed into a more adult one, with an ability to talk comfortably with each other with less judgment. I could be wrong, maybe even very wrong, it’s all conjecture at this point, but I might be right as well. I’m still learning from him though he’s gone these many years now. I still tie my shoelaces backward. So many lessons. So many more too learn.

Color Watchcolorful attractions in my neighborhoods this week – How many flowers I don’t know the name of (some much still to learn) like this golden starburst. Creamy white wild Queen Anne’s lace growing in the crack between the sidewalk and the curb. A patch of purple lavender spikes. A busy buzzy bee visiting a creamy white morning glory. First yellow day lilies of the season.

Current View – {These are only my opinions about movies and books, but don’t let me stop you from trying these reviewed items yourself; your opinion may differ.} Lady Bird (2017, rated R) with Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan. The actors catch the lower income struggle of never enough money and the dynamics of the mother/daughter relationship within that struggle. The ending kind of petered out though and I was a tad disappointed though I don’t know how I would have written it. Not that it needed a happy ending, and this was happy enough, it just felt anti-climactic after all the beautiful building of the parent-child dynamic. * Pasqualino settebellezze (Seven Beauties) (originally released as a motion picture in 1975, released on DVD 2017, rated R) directed by Lina Wertmüller, whom I had read about. An art movie full of symbolism with disturbing images of the atrocities of the war in Germany, much of the dialogue is pertinent to today’s American political climate. In Italian with English subtitles, they failed to subtitle the German, which I had to intuit from context. I had trouble tracking with the plot until the end which forced the question: what is the price we pay for living through the trials and tribulations we live through? It has nothing to do with money. This movie is not for the faint of heart.

Currently ReadingNatural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer (2018, sociology) by Barbara Ehrenreich. Macrophages and white blood cells, which are supposed to be the good guys in your body running around cleaning up bacteria and bad guys in your body, can go rogue and proceed to aid and abet cancer cells. So like I’ve been saying all along: you can control what you eat and drink, you can control how much activity and exercise you take, you can do all the meditation and mindfulness in the world, but your body will do what your body will do. None of it is in your control, though you may think it is, until it isn’t. * Noir (2017, fiction) by Christopher Moore. Typically hilarious Moore; it’s reading too fast!

This week I have been grateful for:

  • Missing my dad.
  • Hot tears while I wrote this week’s post.
  • Having a dad I loved who was a disciplinarian and not abusive.
  • An invitation to share dinner with the hubster’s newly found bio-father and family.
  • The son getting time off to share Father’s Day dinner with us.
  • The hubster’s newly found bio-brother surviving a car crash this week and the care brother is getting toward recovery.
  • My niece-in-law completing her college degree after marrying my nephew, and graduating rather than quitting like so many young women do after they marry.
  • Two babies in my extended families arriving safely this week.
  • Warming weather.
  • Fans.
  • The orientation of my house to catch evening breezes.
  • The music of leaves in the wind.
  • My stomach and intestines finally feeling a tad better. It’s only taken two and a half years out of the pressures of the work force to calm a bit.
  • Some fresh beets, roasted in olive oil and sea salt, and buttered to serve.
  • Water.
  • Hoping you have a lovely week.

    Namaste. Peace. Blessings.

    Floral ribbon border by Laurel Burch

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2 Responses to Gratitude Sunday: Lessons From Dad

  1. piratesorka says:

    As you can imagine, I always feel conflicted around Fathers Day. I have zip idea what it would be like to have a decent dad. I have heard lovely things about my real father who died so very young when I was just months old. Jack Ostlund is top of my list of people I want to meet in heaven. I have seen/met men I think are fairly decent dads but appearances are deceptive., afterall people liked my stepdad but they never knew the real him. So I mostly ignore this day. I’m glad you have happy memories of yours.

    Like

  2. sassy kas says:

    For the record, you got a rotten deal. AND I was always on edge around your step-dad, not sure exactly why, but sometimes the guts know what the mouth can’t say. Also my dad was no Andy Taylor (who was just about the best TV dad ever, but even he didn’t get it right all the time). He had a special way of making me feel uncomfortable about my body and my intelligence, and that’s about 99 percent of who we are. Parental relationships are often problematic, I’m grateful mine was not worse. It can always be worse.

    Like

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