Growing up, I think every kid thinks his Dad is the best. I did, too, even though my Dad was not your typical father.
By saying that, I don’t mean that he was an oddball or not present in my life or anything like that. I was the youngest of eight kids, and we were spaced so far apart that my oldest brother had a son three years older than me. So when I was growing up, my father was the age of most of my friends’ grandfathers. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t a great guy who didn’t work hard to take care of his family and to teach his children right from wrong. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
Dad was a jokester, a storyteller, he could play any kind of musical instrument with keys or strings, though he couldn’t read music and never had a lesson in his life, and most of all, he was a man full of love. But at the same time, he had a set of rules, and he expected you to live by them.
Rules like, “if you drop it, pick it up” and “if you use it, put it back where it belongs” and say “yes, sir and no, sir” and “yes, ma’am and no, ma’am.” I was taught to always open doors for people no matter if they were younger or older than me, and to always treat women like ladies.
I got my love of books and travel from my father, but I got other things from him, too. One was a work ethic. The summer before I turned 16, I got a job in a local gas station. The owner was hesitant to hire me, but his wife and daughter were going back to see family in Europe for the summer and he needed a hand. I asked for the job, and he said, “No, kids don’t really want to work” (yes, they said that way back in my day, too).
But I kept asking him to hire me, and he finally talked to my Dad and said, “Frank, if you tell me to hire him, I’ll hire him. But he has to come to work every day.” My Dad explained to me that it was a six-day a week job, and I couldn’t take time off. I had to go to work every day, so before accepting the job, I had to understand exactly what that commitment meant.
Well, I got the job, and I worked a week or two, then some of my friends decided they wanted to go to the lake one day and asked me to come along. I told them sure, I’d see them first thing in the morning. When they left, my Dad asked me how I planned to be in two places at once because I was also supposed to be at work that day. I told him I was just going to take the day off. Dad said, “When you give your word to someone, you keep it. You gave your boss your word that you would be there every day, and you’re going to be there.”
Being young and thinking I knew it all, I told my Dad he couldn’t force me to go to work of I didn’t want to, and I’d just quit the job. Dad told me that I was more than welcome to quit the job if I wanted to. But I would spend eight hours a day Monday through Saturday, sitting in my room. This was long before the days when kids had computers and TVs and things like that. I would spend the day in my room, and that was it, coming out only for meals and to use the bathroom. “One way or the other,” Dad said, “You promised 48 hours a week this summer to somebody, either to my boss or to me. So you can sit in your room and look out the window watching the grass grow, or you can go to work and earn some money. And more importantly, earn the respect of your boss and myself because you kept your word” I didn’t go to the lake that day, and by the time my 16th birthday rolled around, I had enough money to buy a car and motorcycle. Thanks, Dad.
Something else Dad taught me was that no matter who we think we are, there’s always somebody better off than us and some who are worse off than us, and you treated them both equally. There was a mentally challenged man in our neighborhood who was probably somewhere in his 40s, but had the mind of maybe a ten-year-old. He was fascinated by the sound of music, and if my Dad was sitting on the front porch playing his guitar or his fiddle (Dad would never play a violin) David would show up and stand and watch.
Most people thought he was a pest and shooed him away whenever he came around, but not Dad. He brought that fellow up on the porch and taught him how to play both instruments. Not only play them but play them damn well! Then he went to a pawn shop someplace and bought David his own guitar and fiddle. I asked him why he put so much effort into it and he said, “You can do so many things, son. You can read and write, you can tell stories, you can ride your bicycle, there’s nothing you can’t do. There’s not much that Charlie can do at all. So if I can help him learn to play music and give him something to be happy about, it’s time well spent.”
Someone once said, “My father didn’t tell me how to be a man, he just lived his life, and I learned from watching him.” It was another lesson well learned. Thank you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day. I love you.
Today is your last chance to enter our Free Drawing for an autographed copy of Big Lake Blizzard, the fourth book in my Big Lake series. This copy has the original cover, before I commissioned Elizabeth Mackey to design all of my book covers. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – A father is neither an anchor to hold us back nor a sail to take us there, but a guiding light whose love shows us the way.