Monday, June 2, 2008

Thoughts About My Father

I came home from work and took the pups for a walk. The plan was to go for a ride after our walk but it began to lightly rain so I decided to work on my bike instead of riding it. Doing bike maintenance is therapeutic for me. Sort of the way I feel about working in the yard the first couple months of the season until it stops being enjoyable. Having a healthy way to unwind is important and for me that typically means a ride. For my father that meant hours spent tinkering out in the garage or down in the basement in a poorly lit space in the back of the utility room.

When I was a kid my dad would come home from work and he and my mother would sit in the living room and discuss the day; mostly stuff about the office. She'd mix them a drink or two and for maybe an hour they'd sit and talk. I think that for the most part my siblings and I were pretty good about not interrupting them. Mom would have dinner cooking or ready and when they were finished talking we'd sit down to eat. It was the routine. After dinner my dad would retreat to the basement or garage and tinker with whatever project he had on his workbench. I don't have a workbench; I have the opened tailgate of my truck and a few shelves in the garage for my stuff which works well enough for me.

My dad's radio was nearly always tuned to WCCO AM while mine jumps around from Rock to Talk to Christian to Oldies. Today it was Love105.

I'm told that I'm a lot like my dad. I don't necessarily disagree with that but there were some fundamental differences between us. We both joined the Navy after high-school. I was a radar operator (OS2). It wasn't until after I'd been accepted to radar school that I learned my father did the same job while he served in the Canadian Navy.

I think we both could be accused of liking those things we like(d) to excess. The difference between us though would be that some of his excesses were detrimental to his overall health. My excesses have been detrimental to my knees. For years he tried to quit smoking but he wasn't successful. Smoking is what eventually took his life on September 15th, 1995. He developed emphysema in his sixties and wouldn't live to see seventy years old.

If younger smokers could only see how debilitating emphysema is I think many of them would quit. The problem is that most people suffering from emphysema don't venture out into public because of their limitations and so people don't often see how difficult living with the disease can be. My father spent the last several years of his life connected to an oxygen tank. If that wasn't enough to keep him immobile the lack of oxygen to his lungs was. You would think that emphysema was enough to cause him to quit smoking but I don't believe it was.

I'd like to say that I was extremely close to my dad but that wouldn't be true. I loved him as a son loves his father but we spent too little time in conversation for me to claim any great closeness. I didn't know what I was missing at the time but years later I find myself wondering why our relationship was the way it was. He must have known the validation a kid needs from his dad. I don't know that any of my siblings can say they knew our dad as well as their children know them.

One of my favorite things to do is to sit with Rachel and get inside her head and see what's important to her at the moment. I can't get enough of the time we spend together in conversation. Tammy and I both engage her a lot and she couldn't be more comfortable talking with us.

It was always understood that my father had a difficult childhood having lost both his parents by the age of 9. He talked sparingly about his early life or for that matter any of his life. We grew up knowing very little about his side of the family. Our summer vacations would occasionally take us into Canada and once we actually went to where he grew up near Douglas, Ontario.

I learned more about my dad through observing him than through talking with him. I regret that about our relationship. I remember when he was in his final weeks and being cared for in the intensive care unit of the hospital in Hancock. I drove up to visit him and my mother. While I was there I wandered down to the basement of their home where he had all his stuff sitting out...the latest projects and things he'd been tinkering with when he was still healthy enough. His assortment of tools laying around and pieces of wood stored away for use at a later time just as he'd left them. The basement he'd refinished. I saw his radio/tape player sitting on the end table. Neil Young, Old Ways, laid next to it. I pressed play and the Marty Robbins tape inside came to life. I don't recall which song it was but as I sat in his chair and listened, a flood of emotion overcame me. I remember crying so hard for him and hoping that my mother or sister wouldn't come down and see me. I sat there thinking about how simple a man he was but how utterly complex he could also be. I was sad that there would be no more chances for either of us to redo our past. Our relationship was what it was and that's how it would remain.

He died shortly after my visit. We wonder our entire lives how we'll ever deal with the death of our parents. His dying and my reaction to it didn't play out at all how I'd imagined it would. I felt no profound sadness at his passing; only relief for my mother. I felt guilt over that.

I regret that Tammy never knew him.

I'm thankful to him for the safe and comfortable environment he provided for us. If I had one wish it would be that he would have found more time for not only me but for all of my brothers and sisters. I think we'd all echo that sentiment.

Christmas 1988...


Tim said...

Very interesting post, Kev.

My father also has never talked about his childhood, or any of his life with his children. He was a foster child.

However, my mother also rarely told of her childhood, and she had what could only be considered a normal childhood with two parents living in suburbia.

I had always hoped to learn more about my parents' lives as I and they got older, but they never really opened up about that subject, even when pressed. My mom has now passed away and my dad still rarely talks about those things.

I've concluded that it is probably a generational thing; parents of that generation didn't talk with their children about those things.

Unfortunately that leaves a sizable hole in our knowledge, understanding and recollection of our parents, especially after they're gone.

Kevin said...


I agree with you that it seems to be a generational thing. I'd like to think that the younger generation won't be able to make the same claim when they're in our position. For sure some can and will.

Overall I think parents these days do a better job of not only communicating with their children but are also better at expressing their love for them. I could be wrong.

I have the impression that back in the day when our parents were growing up, their parents were more concerned with the basic necessities of life and had little time for anything else. It's been expressed to me that because of that they're unable to give love in a way that they never received it themselves. I think our generation has done a good job of overcoming that hindrance.

photogopher said...

I've seen the video a number of times. Dad was at his best during these family gatherings I think. I often wondered why Mom and Dad had six kids with all of the responsibility to feed and clothe them all. It may be that Dad needed what he really didn't have growing up, a family of his own.
More than the video was the associated audio which brings back a better image of that day at your place. I hear all of the voices that make it seem just like yesterday.
There has been a transition I think from the need to provide the essentials for a family at the cost of time spent with the kids and now the recognition that we all need more than food and a roof over our heads to be happy.
The thing we called "quality time" when my kids were growing up has become a common goal within most family units these days as opposed to something special or atypical. This is a good thing.

jackie said...

I wonder what it does mean when we say we were not "close" with a parent(s). What does it mean to be "close" Does it mean that you call them each day? Does it mean that you talk to them about your day as a child? Does it mean that you never go without food, clothes or material wealth? Does it mean that you never suffer the consequences of your actions as a child, or as an adult? Does it mean they protect us from all that is wrong in this society? Does it mean that we can never say whats on our mind as they may not agree with us as. Therefore we have no mind of our own but rather always feel the need to keep peace. I'm not certain anymore what it means Kevin. To be close to Dad was different to me than it was to you. My feeling is that dad was very vulnerable and to show that vulnerability to his sons was to fearful for him. He never had a role model as a father so I understand the lack of fatherhood skills that he possesed. I really do not think that he ever quite felt he measured up to our expectations of him. Whatever they were. I know that being away from home a lot for his job did not help to cement the bond that the relationship seemed to lack. He would just get home, do the necessary things and he was off again. There was no importance placed on being home because Dad would be there. It was life as we knew it and it would really never change. The circumstances would but that's about all. I don't blame anyone for how things turned out. I honor him for what he tried to be and for the good he brought to my life and I feel sorrow for what he missed in his life and that would be to know his family as I truly think he wanted to. I believe he always wanted to be a good man. Sometimes he fell short but then so do we all. Thanks fort he memories. In my heart I know he loved us all.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled across this blog by accident and started to read thought on father and couldn't stop , Lovely expressive words, painted a real picture in my head.
good luck you and best wishes for your family
Bristol UK

Kevin said...

Thanks for your kind words, Jason.