Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Happy 93rd Birthday Dad

Do you ever wake up alone and not know where you are? You sense a room, slightly cold and roll over in bed to drape your arms across one whose form would feel like gold in your hand, to nuzzle the soft hair there at the base of the skull. But there is only cold air, and it dawns on you that side of the bed is empty and still. That realization rushes you into wakefulness with the sense that you are somewhat lost, a feeling that hovers constant in the corners of the dark. Half awake, you aren't quite sure where you are, how you got to be here. It's not much different than when you were a little kid and you wake from a nightmare of monsters and homework, calling out to a parent who rushes to your side to let you know you are safe.

What woke me was a bad dream, metallic form tumbling end over end, driven by provoking gusts, tumbling away from me even as I chase after it. I close the distance, sparks bursting out like fireworks, flames spraying towards me as I walk towards it unharmed, attempting to reach its precious cargo before it's immolated. But in my dream, there is nothing left but ash, and I stand there in a halo of fire that smells of burning flesh, slapping at the small and blooming holes of fire that are erupting on my shirt like crimson flowers sprung from my heart. There's no going back to sleep after that. Days like this you need the extra big bowl of Corn Pops. But it's just a dream, and now I have to go, as I have my own things to protect
I look out the window, the landscape is flat, the shadowed forms of the city in the distance rising out of the dawn. There are no mountains, and no more of the thick cloud cover that has been the sky for the last several months, clouds hanging like sodden towels on the peaks of buildings, making distance and form deceptive. I'm either in Texas or Oz, one of the two.

I won't be out West again for a few more weeks, another trip to see Dad and Big Bro and my youngest stepBro if there are enough days. But I still  talk to him almost every day (except Saturday which is Sports Marathon, a happy man, a beer and a remote). It doesn't matter how old I get, I'm his little girl and he worries about me out in the world. He worries about me even more lately, wanting to make sure before he leaves, that I'm happy and safe. My guys. Barkley is 10 in July, getting white white around the muzzle and tiring out after his play now.  Dad is still going as hard as he can, despite cancer, and a small stroke.  Hard to believe he turns 93 tomorrow.
Dad and Barkley at a family barbecue for his 89th birthday.
 
I give my Dad a lot of credit. He's not a big man but he's an imposing figure. But he's incredibly strong, still working out with weights several days a week. A golden glove boxer, a veteran of WWII, retired as a Lt. Colonel. He and my Mom lost their first child, a little girl, born too early, only surviving days. After that, with complications from the birth, they remained childless for over 15 years, watching their friends have kids, then grand kids. Mom said "foster parenting? adoption?"

I imagine his first words were "but I'm retired?!" But he soon took up the monumental task of filling out all the paperwork, with hope and joy and adopted more than one child that came into their healing home, including Big Bro and I, who came with our own baggage, even at such a tender age. 
It can't have been easy but they did it, without complaint, without help, not caring that we weren't their offspring by DNA.  Being a parent, a family, isn't about blood lines or age or paternity, it's simply a love beyond feeling that resonates in the heart as you look on your child. It's making tough sacrificial decisions, decisions that say without words what is important to you. It's remembering the lessons your father passed on to you, for a father with a sense of honor wants to be even more than he is and to pass something good and hopeful into the hands of his child.

I remember coming home crying when I was about 10, wrapped in angst because some boy I liked had said something very cruel to me, crueler in that I thought he was my friend. So I went to my Dad, for he was that approachable, golden authority on everything from dugouts to Daisy rifles in whom I held total faith and trust. I told him what the boy said and asked "is that true? " He looked e in the eye and said, "I once caught a steelhead as big as a cow." HUH? I thought". He repeated "maybe it was as big as a Buick" and I started to giggle knowing that wasn't true. Then my Dad said "Just because someone says something, doesn't make it true."and then he added under his breath "remember that when you're old enough to vote" and chuckled. And in that simple moment, spoken with humor, Dad showed me the importance of honesty. I went back to school, whacked the snot out of the kid that said it, and felt immensely better.
When I was a teen, I was a volunteer at a nursing home. The elderly people thoroughly enjoyed the visits, and often would keep me in their room for what seemed like hours to someone my age, as I brought juice and some blessed company. But for a teenager it was not a fun way to spend the afternoon and one time when Dad was dropping me off, I said "You know, I don't really want to do this". The silence echoed in the car like a question. Then Dad quietly said, "Did you tell them you would do it?" I said, "Yes." That was that. I knew exactly what he meant. They were counting on me. I missed an afternoon at the mall with friends and felt right for doing so.

Dad showed me dependability.

Later I had a chance to work and go to college far from my hometown. The first leap into independence is hard for anyone, the time when you know who you are but not what you may be. Hesitant to take the step, to move so far from home, I did what I still do, I called my Dad."What if I don't make it" I asked. Dad told me about leaving Montana behind as a young man and going to England on the Queen Mary to be an Army Air Corp area police officer during WWII. How hard that trip was to make.
 
After listening to him I realized a simple trip across a state border was nothing and packed my things. I harnessed my dream because Dad showed me the important thing is to be able, at any moment, to sacrifice what we are for what we could become. Dad showed me courage even as things change. Dad probably doesn't remember these conversations, but I do. The things that leave the biggest impression on a child may not be obvious to them until they are grown. They are not money given, or cars bought or video games provided. It's being a pillar of strength and support, patience and compassion. What will make you memorable to your children will be the things you don't think they see, and perhaps they don't now, but when they get older and step back from you, leaving for their own life—then they will measure the greatness of your example and fully appreciate it.

Did I always follow his example? In a word. NO. Over the years I've been headstrong and stubborn and foolish and more than once selfish and thoughtless. But he has always stood by me, even if in the vagrancy of foolish dreams and adrenalin, I have disappointed him. Still, I tried to learn from his examples. I still do.
My Dad has always been active in the community and the church, especially working with the Lion's Club, where for a time he was Club Secretary, raising money for eyesight programs, the Red Cross and Service Dog programs, as well as and local scholarships for area children.

One thing he was particularly proud of was their newspaper recycling fund-raising program, which provided income for these programs but not without a lot of hard, volunteer work. The shining marker of that program was a Newspaper Recycling Building built to further expand on that community project. The members constructed it themselves, husbands and fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers, laboring in cold and rain, hot and sun, often at the expense of their own sleep. In November 2000, newly constructed, vandals burned it to the ground,

There was nothing left, but a few support timbers, lined up in stark order like gravestones at a military service. The men, my father, simply stood there stunned, as water dripped from the remains, strips of clouds like bayonets against the sky. A lot of work went into it, all volunteer and many of them in their 60's and 70's. You would have expected my Dad to storm and rage against a senseless act of destruction. But he didn't, though I was not so naive that I didn't miss the simmering outrage within which lives a betrayal too intense and inert to ever be articulated.
I read somewhere that heartache is to a noble what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it. So true and words my Dad lived by. From him I have learned that whatever terrible things may happen to us, there is only one thing that allows them to permanently damage our core self, and that is continued belief in them. Dad's lived these beliefs.

He's survived cance and a small stroke, buried two beloved wives, married to them over 60 years. He held my hand during 34 hours in natural childbirth, when her father abandoned me, and swept me away to our cabin after I handed her over to her adoptive parents, listening to me cry myself to sleep for months. I was a teen, barely out of high school and he never judged, never said he was disappointed in me, never said I told you so, for a choice in first loves that he had warned was going to be a bad one.

He taught me forgiveness and compassion

I've watched him sit a vigil at his wife's bedside that lasted days, sleeping only in naps in a chair, never letting go of her hand. He was simply there, a constant presence next to her slender, silent form, from which weariness and exertion had yet to depart, holding her, never doubting the actuality of his faith, guarding with sharp and unremitting alertness those minutes that he knows are fleeting.

I watched him as she left us. He touched the streak of white in her hair as lightning cleaved clear air and a gentle rain fell from cloudless skies, as if their moments together, as brief as they may have been, lingered there in a flash of light and tears, though breath itself had ceased.
For a man such as this, that vandalism was merely a setback. He and his friends simply set out to rebuild what was lost. They did so with the help of kids from the local Elementary school, who amassed more than 600 pounds of pennies to help pay for the new building, with the adults, amazed at the kids efforts, donating the rest. The kids had a little contest between boys and girls and had their own little assembly line, putting the pennies into bags to take to the bank, learning the value of hard work and what it can bring. Those little kids raised well over $1000 from just pennies they rounded up at home and school, in thanks for what the Lions had done for them, a covered play area and an improved playground accessible to all the children

That new recycling building still stands proudly today, a testament to the faith of children and the loving example of fathers.

It will soon be time to give my Dad another call. For he too will be waking up in a lonely bed, on his birthday, perhaps wondering where he is. I can picture him sitting in his recliner in the family room, Bible and coffee mug close at hand, his small frame illuminated by the early morning light, framed by ancient glass that bore light and witness to many a happy memory.

We will pour ourselves a bowl of Corn Pops and have our daily chat, while I tell him how very proud I am, that he chose to be my Father, through it all

27 comments:

  1. Any man worth the name would be proud to have a daughter like you. And you know he is.

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  2. What a wonderful Father's Day post. I am humbled and yes there is apparently some dust in here right now.

    “My father didn't tell me how to live; he lives, and let me watch him do it”. Modified Quote from Clarence Budington Kelland.

    Indeed. I still learn much from him. As I think you as well. Gentle Men on the surface and yet when people they care about are threatened, they will move both hell and earth. With force and vengeful fury.

    They will also stand by you. Whatever stupid decisions you may have made. I have made many. Not as life changing as yours, but I have made some.

    My Father is still here and I cherish him. He has gone full Curmudgeon, but I cannot deny that now.

    God Bless.

    Wonderful post!

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  3. A fitting birthday tribute to your dad, Brigid. I wish him a happy day of it!

    Vic303

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  4. Sounds like One Heck of a Man, although, you can get the measure of a man by the things he creates, and with you being on that list, we have all the proof we need.

    I can only hope that I have half as much positive impact on my daughters.

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  5. Give your Dad my birthday wishes, and a big hug next time you see him.

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  6. Happy Birthday Pops, A Special Hug to you from the wild blue eyed one.

    Brigid, Thanks for sharing him, they don't make'm like him any more.

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  7. Happy Birthday and Happy Father's Day to your father.

    You both should be very proud of each other.

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  8. What a great post for your fathers Birthday. I wish him a wonderful Birthday.

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  9. Wishing your dad a Happy Birthday!

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  10. Another beautiful story. Happy Birthday to the Col. You are truly lucky to have him.

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  11. Dusty in here.

    Happy Birthday, Brigid's dad!!

    I hope my son can look back someday and cherish similar memories.

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  12. Just beautiful. Made me miss my father even more.

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  13. Wonderful post!

    And Happy Birthday to your Dad!

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  14. Happy birthday to your father. I hope that I am half as worthy in the eyes of my own daughter.

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  15. I'm happy to see your dad is still with you. That is a wonderful blessing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  16. A beautifully moving tribute.

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  17. That last line really got to me and made me tear up a bit. Remind me not to read your stuff while I'm at work. Having said that, your father exhibits the traits I am working very hard to live in my own life. I hope to hear my own adopted daughter to one day say exactly what you said in that last sentence.

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  18. Happy Birthday and Fathers day to your dad

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  19. A beautiful tribute to such an honorable man. Please wish him a Happy Birthday from this veteran and cop who is so proud to have shared a profession with such a man. And one lucky father to another.

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  20. Poignant and full of truth as ever...

    My father would have been 97 this year. An fostered-by- (unpleasant) relatives childhood after the Spanish Flu took Grandma; following the harvest in the Depression; jumping into Nazi-occupied Europe with the Rangers; Chicago crooks; Chicago cops; and decades in pre-OSHA Rust Belt heavy industry couldn't do more than take a few nicks out of his hide. What I'd guesstimate to have been 300,000* Pall Malls, though...

    Enduringly quitting smoking was the only thing that defied him, though. Otherwise, whatever needed to be done seemed within his capacity. That's the gift he gave me: a consistent example of always doing what seemed right as soon as he saw it clear, even when it wasn't easy.

    That is a valuable thing and I have hoped to live up to it, and now, to be passing it along in some measure.



    * No, that doesn't have an extra zero. Twenty coffin nails to a pack; a pack a day (which isn't even the habit of a truly heavy smoker); 365 days a year; by the time it gets you, which it probably will if you keep at it, you'll have consumed a few hundred thousand of them.

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  21. Wishing your father a happy birthday!

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  22. Great post and Happy Birthday to your Dad. We share a common thread... I also was adopted. My Dad passed in '06 . I'm were I'm at to keep an eye on my Mom who turned 87 this year.

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  23. Happy Birthday Brigid's Dad.

    You are a fine man, a great father and raised a terrific daughter.

    Take care of each other!

    gfa

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  24. There are so many reasons to be so proud of your Dad. There are so many reasons for him to be so incredibly proud of the woman you have become. I am proud just to have a window into the lives of both of you. Well written and wonderful. You help me to feel proud on those days when being a fairly new adoptive Mom to a teen boy are tough...
    Love to you both,

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  25. Miss my Dad Everyday. Enjoy yours. Hugs

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  26. What a beautiful post! Thank you. My oldest texted to ask if I have plans for Father's Day. I think I'll plan to visit with her for the day.

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I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..